Persistence and transmission of tick-borne viruses: Ixodes ricinus and louping-ill virus in red grouse populations.
The population dynamics of tick-borne disease agents and in particular the mechanisms which influence their persistence are examined with reference to the flavivirus that causes louping-ill in red grouse and sheep. Pockets of infection cause heavy mortality and the infection probably persists as a consequence of immigration of susceptible hosts. Seroprevalence is positively associated with temporal variations in vectors per host, although variation between areas is associated with the abundance of mountain hares. The presence of alternative tick hosts, particularly large mammals, provides additional hosts for increasing tick abundance. Grouse alone can not support the vectors and the pathogen but both can persist when a non-viraemic mammalian host supports the tick population and a sufficiently high number of nymphs bite grouse. These alternative hosts may also amplify virus through non-viraemic transmission by the process of co-feeding, although the relative significance of this has yet to be determined. Another possible route of infection is through the ingestion of vectors when feeding or preening. Trans-ovarial transmission is a potentially important mechanism for virus persistence but has not been recorded with louping-ill and Ixodes ricinus. The influence of non-viraemic hosts, both in the multiplication of vectors and the amplification of virus through non-viraemic transmission are considered significant for virus persistence.