Tick populations from endemic and non-endemic areas in Germany show differential susceptibility to TBEV
Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) is endemic in twenty-seven European countries, transmitted via the bite of an infected tick. TBEV is the causative agent of one of the most important viral diseases of the central nervous system (CNS). In Germany, 890 human cases were registered between the years 2018-2019. The castor bean tick, Ixodes ricinus, is the TBEV vector with the highest importance in Central Europe, including Germany. Despite the nationwide distribution of this tick species, risk areas of TBEV are largely located in Southern Germany. To increase our understanding of TBEV-tick interactions, we collected ticks from different areas within Germany (Haselmühl/Bavaria, Hanover/Lower Saxony) and infected them via an in vitro feeding system. A TBEV isolate was obtained from an endemic focus in Haselmühl. In two experimental series conducted in 2018 and 2019, ticks sampled in Haselmühl (TBEV focus) showed higher artificial feeding rates, as well as higher TBEV infections rates than ticks from the non-endemic area (Hanover). Other than the tick origin, year and month of the infection experiment as well as co-infection with Borrelia spp., had a significant impact on TBEV Haselmühl infection rates. Taken together, these findings suggest that a specific adaptation of the tick populations to their respective TBEV virus isolates or vice versa, leads to higher TBEV infection rates in those ticks. Furthermore, co-infection with other tick-borne pathogens such as Borrelia spp. can lower TBEV infection rates in specific populations.