The spirochaete Borrelia burgdorferi associated with Lyme disease was detected in questing ticks and rodents during a period of 18 years, 1991–2009, at five locations on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The black-legged tick Ixodes scapularis was collected at varied intervals between 1991 and 2009 and examined for B. burgdorferi. The white-footed mouse Peromyscus leucopus, house mouse Mus musculus marsh rice rat Oryzomys palustris, marsh rabbit Sylvilagus palustris, eastern cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus and six-lined racerunner Cnemidophorus sexlineatus were live-trapped, and their tissues cultured to isolate spirochaetes.
Borrelia burgdorferi isolates were obtained from questing adult I. scapularis and engorged I. scapularis removed from P. leucopus, O. palustris and S. floridanus. The prevalence of B. burgdorferi infection was variable at different times and sites ranging from 7 to 14% of examined questing I. scapularis. Mitochondrial (16S) rRNA gene phylogenetic analysis from 65 adult I. scapularis identified 12 haplotypes in two major clades. Nine haplotypes were associated with northern/Midwestern I. scapularis populations and three with southern I. scapularis populations. Sixteen isolates obtained from tick hosts in 2005 were confirmed to be B. burgdorferi by amplifying and sequencing of 16S rRNA and 5S-23S intergenic spacer fragments. The sequences had 98–99% identity to B. burgdorferi sensu stricto strains B31, JD1 and M11p.
Taken together, these studies indicate that B. burgdorferi sensu stricto is endemic in questing I. scapularis and mammalian tick hosts on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.