can birds get lyme disease

Birds play an underrecognized role in spreading tick-borne disease due to their capacity for long-distance travel and tendency to split their time in different parts of the world – patterns that are shifting due to climate change.

Knowing which bird species are able to infect ticks with pathogens can help scientists predict where tick-borne diseases might emerge and pose a health risk to people.

A new study published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography used machine learning to identify bird species with the potential to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) to feeding ticks.

The team developed a model that identified birds known to spread Lyme disease with 80% accuracy and flagged 21 new species that should be prioritized for surveillance.

Lead author Daniel Becker, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Indiana University, says, “We know birds can infect ticks with the Lyme bacterium; however, until now, no one has systematically studied the ecological and evolutionary drivers that influence which bird species are most likely to host and spread Borrelia burgdorferi on a global scale. We set out to fill this gap by identifying traits of bird species that are most likely to pass Lyme to feeding ticks.”

Senior author Barbara Han, a disease ecologist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, says, “To predict and monitor species that could spread tick-borne diseases to people, we first need to know which traits make certain animals good pathogen hosts. Here, we used machine learning to assess bird species traits, paired with Lyme infection data from ticks found on birds, to predict bird species that have the potential to spread Lyme.”

Thrushes may hold highest Lyme risk

Turdus species—also referred to as true thrushes—were found to have a noticeably higher probability of competence than other taxa. According to this research, thrushes may be the bird species most at risk of spreading Lyme disease. Birds that feed mainly on seeds and those that forage on the ground, putting them in the path of roving ticks, were also known to have higher competence than passerines, or perching birds.

Finding bird species that are Lyme-competent may directly affect human health. Tick-borne diseases, especially Lyme disease, can be difficult to diagnose. Medical professionals can better diagnose and treat patients by being aware of the areas where ticks and the diseases they carry are spreading.

Many birds are shifting their breeding ranges northward due to climate change. Ticks and infections move into higher latitudes along with birds. Certain bird species now live in cities and suburbs either full-time or occasionally. Tick-borne diseases are more likely to infect locals due to birds that thrive in populated areas, particularly those that are overwintering in these new locations near people.

Across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania

For this investigation, the researchers looked through published literature to find studies that described ticks found feeding on birds having Lyme disease. 102 studies with data from ticks found on 183 bird species were found through the global search; 91 of these carried ticks that tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi. Because these bird species are known to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi to feeding ticks, they are regarded as “competent” reservoir species. The species that have been flagged are widespread, occurring in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

Next, 4691 different bird species’ traits were compared to those of competent bird species using machine learning. Data comprised geographic information such as migration distance, global dispersal, and maximum elevation, as well as life history characteristics such as diet composition, foraging location, body size, lifespan, reproductive rate, and fledgling age. Additionally, they examined baseline levels of corticosterone, which is a stress hormone that can affect a bird’s susceptibility to infection.

The model identified birds with 80% accuracy that were known to spread Lyme to ticks, and it also identified 2021 new species that should be prioritized for surveillance based on their sharing of traits with known competent species. In addition to being widely dispersed, high-risk species typically have low baseline corticosterone levels, breed and winter at high latitudes and low elevations, and fall on either extreme of the pace-of-life continuum (species that breed late and live longer, or breed early and die young).

Compared to other bird species, species in the genus Turdus, also referred to as true thrushes, were found to have a significantly higher likelihood of spreading Lyme disease. According to this research, thrushes may be the bird species most at risk of spreading Lyme disease. Birds that mainly feed on seeds, passerines, or perching birds, and those that forage on the ground are also known to be at higher risk because these behaviors put them in the path of roving ticks.

The research team created a model that could identify birds known to spread Lyme to ticks with 80% accuracy, and it identified 21 species that should be prime candidates for surveillance.

Birds play an underrecognized role in spreading tickborne disease. Their ability to travel great distances and propensity to divide their time between different parts of the world—patterns that are changing due to climate change—allow them to spread such diseases. Scientists can anticipate the potential locations of tickborne diseases that could become dangerous for humans by identifying the bird species that can carry pathogens that infect ticks.

“This research demonstrates the efficacy of machine learning in detecting pathogenic species,” remarks Sam Scheiner, a program director in the NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology. This strategy offers a valuable tool for stopping disease outbreaks and can be used for a variety of other animal-transmitted diseases, including COVID-19. “.

A U.S. National Science Foundation-funded study published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography used machine learning to identify bird species with the potential to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi as ticks feed on the birds.


Can birds catch Lyme disease?

A few local birds, however, have borne the deer tick–a species known to cause Lyme disease, or “tick arthritis.” There’s little doubt a tick can be detrimental to its bird host.

What animal Cannot get Lyme disease?

Deer are important sources of blood for ticks and are important to tick survival and movement to new areas. However, deer are not infected with Lyme disease bacteria and do not infect ticks.

Can pets get Lyme disease?

Dogs can display several forms of Lyme disease, but the most common symptoms are lameness, swollen lymph nodes, joint swelling, fatigue, and loss of appetite. In addition, serious kidney complications have been associated with Lyme disease in dogs.

Is Lyme disease 100% curable?

Receiving Lyme disease treatment within the early stages usually leads to a 100% recovery. Treatment in later stages can lead to long-lasting or chronic Lyme disease. Some patients can experience symptoms up to six months or more after the completion of treatment.