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Zoonotic pathogens that cause devastating morbidity and mortality in humans may be relatively harmless in their natural reservoir hosts. The tick-borne bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease in humans but few studies have investigated whether this pathogen reduces the fitness of its reservoir hosts under natural conditions. We analyzed four years of capture-mark-recapture (CMR) data on a population of white-footed mice, Peromyscus leucopus, to test whether B. burgdorferi and its tick vector affect the survival of this important reservoir host. We used a multi-state CMR approach to model mouse survival and mouse infection rates as a function of a variety of ecologically relevant explanatory factors. We found no effect of B. burgdorferi infection or tick burden on the survival of P. leucopus. Our estimates of the probability of infection varied by an order of magnitude (0.051 to 0.535) and were consistent with our understanding of Lyme disease in the Northeastern United States. B. burgdorferi establishes a chronic avirulent infection in their rodent reservoir hosts because this pathogen depends on rodent mobility to achieve transmission to its sedentary tick vector. The estimates of B. burgdorferi infection risk will facilitate future theoretical studies on the epidemiology of Lyme disease.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Animals, Arachnid Vectors, Borrelia burgdorferi, Disease Reservoirs, Host-Pathogen Interactions, Lyme Disease, Peromyscus, Survival Analysis, Ticks