Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever Infection from a Bunker, a Case Report on a “One Health” Approach

Gabriela Kleinerman*, Mor Rittblat, Gad Baneth, Sagi Gavriel, Yaarit Nahum-Biala, Dan Grinstein, Nufar Dagan, Lavie Chaim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF) caused by Borrelia persica is an endemic disease in Israel and highly prevalent in military personnel. Prevention among the Israel Defense Force soldiers is based on increased awareness mainly in hyperendemic areas and selective postexposure prophylaxis with doxycycline. In this study, we report the presence of a suspected outbreak of TBRF in four soldiers who spent 30 h inside a deserted bunker. Materials and Methods: Clinical data on TBRF suspected cases were retrieved from clinical records, soft ticks were collected using carbon dioxide (CO2) traps and their DNA was extracted and analysed by PCR and nucleotide sequencing. Environmental conditions such as relative humidity, air temperature, wind speed, and type of soil, as well as presence or absence of animal traces inside the bunkers were documented. Results: TBRF-like clinical symptoms in the patients included: tick bite scars, fever (37.5-39.2°C), rash, tachycardia, hypotension, myalgia, cough, headache, cervical lymphadenopathy and nausea. Microscopic search for B. persica in blood smears was performed in three patients and was negative. Out of the 255 Ornithodoros tholozani ticks collected from the bunker, 198 were analyzed and 2 (1%) were infected with B. persica. To determine if tick infestation in military bunkers is a common phenomenon, we surveyed nine additional military bunkers located in four different geographical areas for the presence of soft ticks. Only one additional bunker was infested with two O. tholozani ticks, both negative for B. persica. Presence of earth that probably helped sustain a relatively big tick population was observed on the floor in the highly infested bunker. Environmental treatment with lambda-cyhalothrin at 9.7% was performed and showed efficacy with no ticks recovered in the infested bunker 124 days after intervention. Conclusion: This study shows that military bunkers may harbor soft ticks infected with B. persica and entrance into bunkers should be considered as a risk for acquiring this infection like entrance into natural caves and archeological ruins.

Original languageEnglish
JournalVector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.


  • Borrelia persica
  • bunker
  • Israel
  • Ornithodoros tholozani
  • TBRF


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