ISSN 2398-2969      

Borrelia burgdorferi





  • Kingdom: Prokaryotae.
  • Phylum: Spirochaetes.
  • Class: Spirochaetes.
  • Order: Spirochaetales.
  • Family: Spirochaetaceae.
  • Genus:Borrelia.
  • Species:burgdorferi.


  • Amédéé Borrel, French bacteriologist (1867-1936).
  • In 1982,Borrelia burgdorferiwas named in honor of Willy Burgdorfer, who first provided evidence of the causal relationship between this organism and Lyme disease   Borreliosis  .
  • B. burgdorferiwas isolated fromIxodesticks.

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Clinical Effects



  • B. burgdorferiis an endoparasitic species and therefore its main habitat is in host tissue, including those of the vector host (the Ixodid tick) and the vertebrate host.
  • Rabbits may be parasitized by a number of ticks including the sheep or deer tick (Ixodes ricinus) and the hedgehog tick (Ixodes heaxagonus):
    • Both these species of ticks are vectors forB. burgdorferiand are commonly found on wildlife hosts in Britain.
  • The incidence of tick parasitism in rabbits is poorly documented.
  • The incidence ofB. burgdorferiwill reflect the preferred habitat and host distribution of host vectors.
  • Many suitable tick habitats now coincide with human habitation and therefore that of domestic rabbits.
  • Broad leaf woodlands provide an excellent habitat for ticks, as does any build up of permanently moist layers of vegetation. This is seen, for example, where heather moorland ceases to be maintained, allowing invasion by bracken, molinia grass and birch scrub.


  • Transovarial transmission ofB. burgdorferito larval ticks of a number of different Ixodid species, includingIxodes damminiandIxodes pacificusin the US andIxodes ricinusin Europe. Infection rates are low however, and it is thought that most larvae become infected after feeding from an infected vertebral host.
  • In the US, critical hosts for the enzootic cycle ofIxodes dammini-transmittedB. burgdorferiinclude the white-footed mouse as a host for immature ticks and as a reservoir of the spirochaete and white-tailed deer as a host for adult ticks.
  • In Europe, small rodents, particularly species ofApodemus(field mice) andClethrionomys(moles), serve as important hosts for the immature stages ofIxodes ricinusand as sources for infecting ticks withB. burgdorferi. Like the white-footed mouse (P. leucopus) in the northeastern and midwestern US, these rodents are highly susceptible to the Lyme disease spirochaete and, once infected, remain so for life.
  • In early summer, when tick larvae hatch from overwintering eggs and attach to a host, the larva can become infected withB. burgdorferi.
  • Once in the tick's gut,B. burgdorfericlings to the lining of the gut through its surface proteins, forms a colony and eventually penetrates the gut wall.
  • B. burgdorferiremains within the gut until the tick feeds again as a nymph.
  • One study only found bacteria in the midgut of starved nymphs:
    • Upon attachment of nymphs to the host, the bacteria grew with a doubling time close to 4 h, reaching a mean of 7,848 spirochetes per nymph 15 h after attachment.
    • During this initial period (36 h) of rapid growth, the bacteria appeared to be restricted to the gut, but after 48 h the spirochetes had disseminated to the salivary glands in the majority of nymphs examined.
    • A maximum number of 166,575 spirochetes per nymph was noted 72 h after attachment.
    • Soon after completion of feeding and detachment from the host (96 h), the mean number of spirochetes decreased to 95,410 per nymph.
    • The spirochetes appeared to be cleared from organs other than the midgut, providing strong evidence for trasmission via the salivary route.
  • When the nymphal tick bites into a new host,B. burgdorferiagain enters and must adapt to a new environment:
    • The saliva of the tick surrounds the spirochaetes and provides assistance by altering the host's immune system at the site of the wound.
  • In certain competent hosts,B. burgdorferican penetrate tissues, setting up a chronic infection that allows the host to serve as a reservoir and infect other ticks.


  • B. burgdorferiis transmitted to rabbits by an infected nymphal or adults Ixodid tick.
  • Laboratory studies have shown that nymphal Ixodid ticks must be attached for >2 days in order to efficiently transmit spirochetes in rabbits and mice.

Pathological effects

  • The etiological agent of Lyme disease (B. burgdorferi) remains localized for several days in the skin of a rodent host following inoculation by an infected tick.
  • Spirochetes migrate locally within the skin, leading to the formation of an erythema migrans chronicum lesion.
  • One study suggested that the dissemination of spirochaetes from their site of inoculation in the skin was more likely in hosts that permitted the development of a fulminating infection and investigated this possibility in mice.
  • Infection derived immunity in the rabbit is, however, thought to be completely protective.

Other Host Effects

  • Unlike humans and dogs, rabbits are thought to clearB. burgdorferi.
  • In humans and dogsB. burgdorferihas been known to spread into the blood, cerebrospinal fluid, heart, retina, brain, muscles, bone, spleen, liver and brain.


Control via animal

  • Daily examination to identify and remove ticks may be indicated to reduce the risk of transmission.
  • Shaving the animal at location of tick removal will be important to examine the skin.
  • Prompt removal of ticks within 24 h of attachment is likely to reduce the risk of transmission significantly.

Control via chemotherapies

  • Use of suitable acaricide/tick repellent on at risk animals will reduce the risk of tick attachment and disease transmission.
  • Where infection has arisen, it is not usually associated with clinical signs and treatment is unlikely to be indicated.
  • B. burgdorferiis sensitive to a number of antibioticsin vitro, including penicillins, tetracyclines and macrolides.

Oral penicillins should be avoided in rabbits.

  • No information is available on recommendedin vivotreatments for rabbits.

Control via environment

  • Owners wishing to reduce the risk of transmission should avoid grazing rabbits alongside host species and similarly avoid keeping rabbits in environments where the disease threat is known to be high.
  • Such environments could include areas where there is high density of sheep, deer, hedgehogs and other host species.
  • Tick habitats should similarly be avoided or altered to reduce their suitability for ticks.


  • Lyme borreliosis is not thought to represent a significant disease threat in rabbits and vaccination is not currently recommended.
  • Lyme borreliosis was found to be self-limiting in experimentally infected rabbits.
  • The duration of protection arising from infection induced immunity may be limited as not all the eleven rabbits tested demonstrated complete immunity, with two rabbits showing a localized dermal infection.

Other countermeasures

  • None required.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Couper D, Margos G, Kurtenbach K et al (2010) Prevalence of Borrelia infection in ticks from wildlife in south-west England. Vet Rec 167 (26), 1012-1014 PubMed.
  • Schnarr S, Franz J K, Krause A et al (2006) Infection and musculoskeletal conditions:​ Lyme borreliosis. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol 20 (6), 1099-1118 PubMed.
  • Steere A C, Coburn J & Glickstein L (2004) The emergence of Lyme disease. J Clin Invest 113 (8), 1093-1101 PubMed.
  • Randolph S E (2001) The shifting landscape of tick-borne zoonoses: tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme Borreliosis in Europe. Phil Trans R Soc London 356 (1411), 1045-1056 PubMed.
  • Shang E S, Champion C I, Wu X Y et al (2000) Comparison of protection in rabbits against host-adapted and cultivated Borrelia burgdorferi following infection-derived immunity or immunisation with outer membrane vesicles or outer surface protein A. Infect Immun 68 (7), 4189-4199 PubMed.
  • Hubálek Z, Halouzka J & Heroldová M (1998) Growth temperature ranges of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato strains. J Med Microbiol 47 (10), 929-932 PubMed.
  • Foley D M, Wang Y P, Wu X Y et al (1997) Acquired resistance to Borrelia burgdorferi infection in the rabbit. Comparison between outer surface protein A vaccine- and infection-derived immunity. J Clin Invest 99 (8), 2030-2035 PubMed.
  • Reisinger E, Wendelin I, Gasser R et al (1996) Antibiotics and increased temperature against Borrelia burgdorferi in vitro. Scand  J Infect Dis 28 (2), 155-157 PubMed.
  • Wikel S K (1996) Host immunity to ticks. Annu Rev Entomology 41, 1-22 PubMed.
  • De Silva A M & Fikrig E (1995) Growth and migration of Borrelia burgdorferi in Ixodes ticks during blood feeding. Am J Trop Med Hyg 53 (4), 397-404 PubMed.
  • Foley D M, Gayek R J, Skare J T et al (1995) Rabbit model of Lyme borreliosis: erythema migrans, infection-derived immunity, and identification of Borrelia burgdorferi proteins associated with virulence and protective immunity. J Clin Invest 96 (2), 965-975 PubMed.
  • Butler F T (1994) Arthropod and helminth parasites from rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in south west Ireland. Irish Naturalists Journal 24 (10), 392-395 VetMedResource.
  • Livesley M A, Carey D, Gern L et al (1994) Problems of isolating Borrelia burgdorferi from ticks collected in United Kingdom foci of Lyme disease. Med Vet Entomol (2), 172-178 PubMed.
  • Fikrig E, Magnarelli L A, Chen M C et al (1993) Serological analysis of dogs, horses and cottontail rabbits to an antigenic flagellar epitope of Borrelia burgdorferi. J Clin Microbiol 31 (9), 2451-2455 VetMedResource.
  • Shih C M, Telford S R 3rd, Pollack R J et al (1993) Rapid dissemination by the agent of Lyme disease in hosts that permit fulminating infection. Infect Immun 61 (6), 2396-2399 PubMed.
  • Lane R S, Piesman J & Burgdorfer W (1991) Lyme borreliosis: relation of its causative agent to its vectors and hosts in North America and Europe. Ann Rev Entomology 36, 586-609 PubMed.
  • Piesman J, Maupin G O, Campos E G et al (1990) Duration of adult female Ixodes dammini attachment and transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi, with description of needle aspiration method. J Infect Dis 163 (4), 895-897 PubMed.
  • Telford S R 3rd & Spielman A (1989) Enzootic transmission of the agent of Lyme disease in rabbits. Am J Trop Med Hyg 41 (4), 482-490 PubMed.
  • Daniel J C Jr., Sonenshine D E & Juneja S C (1988) Disruption of pregnancy of rabbits serving as hosts for feeding ticks. Theriogenol 30 (6), 1087-1092 PubMed.
  • Benach J L, Bosler E M, Coleman J L et al (1984) Experimental transmission of the Lyme Disease spirochete to rabbits. J Infectious Disease 150 (5), 786-787 PubMed.
  • Johnson R C, Schmid G P, Hyde F W et al (1984) Borrelia burgdorferi spp. nov.: etiologic agent of Lyme disease. Int J Syst Bacteriol 34 (4), 496-497 Microbiology Research.
  • Kornblatt A N, Steere A C & Brownstein D G (1984) Experimental Lyme Disease in rabbits: spirochetes found in erythema migrans and blood. Infection and Immunity 46 (1), 220-223 PubMed.
  • Burgdorfer W, Barbour A G, Hayes S F et al (1982) Lyme disease a tick-borne spirochetosis? Science 216 (4552), 1317-1319 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Wang G, Aguero-Rosenfeld M E, Wormser G P & Schwartz I (2010) Detection of Borrelia burgdorferi. In:Borrelia: Molecular Biology, Host Interaction and Pathogenesis. Eds: Samuels D S & Radolf J D. Caister Academic Press, Norfolk, UK.
  • Stanek G, Strle E, Gray J & Wormser G P (2002) History and characteristics of Lyme Borreliosis. In:Lyme Borreliosis, Biology, Epidemiology and Control. Eds: Gray J S, Kahl O, Lane R S, Stanek G. CABI Publishing. pp 1-28.
  • Karlen A (2000) Biography of a Germ. New York, Pantheon Books.

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