Antagonism between parasites within snail hosts impacts the transmission of human schistosomiasis

  1. Martina R Laidemitt  Is a corresponding author
  2. Larissa C Anderson
  3. Helen J Wearing
  4. Martin W Mutuku
  5. Gerald M Mkoji
  6. Eric S Loker
  1. University of New Mexico, United States
  2. Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kenya
5 figures and 4 additional files


Trematode biodiversity in the S. mansoni hyperendemic area of western Kenya.

(A) The different types of trematode cercariae recovered either uniquely from B. pfeifferi from streams or from B. sudanica from the lakeshore, or that were recovered from both snail species (in red), confirmed with mitochondrial barcodes. (B) Kasabong (ephemeral stream) and Asao (perennial stream), the overall prevalence of larval trematode infections in B. pfeifferi is shown along with pie charts showing the composition of the trematode infections. Note the large proportions of infections comprised of C. sukari or S. mansoni. (C) A sample of six trematode with inferred life cycles (in some cases directly documented) to point out the variety of invertebrate and vertebrate hosts (and plants) involved in such cycles. (D) Peak prevalence of S. mansoni (indicated on vertical axis as the percent shedding cercariae) from three different Biomphalaria taxa to experimental infection with S. mansoni miracidia (five miracida/snail) derived from local school children. (E) The prevalence of C. sukari, S. mansoni, and other trematodes from bimonthly surveys of Kasabong and Asao. Note C. sukari is the most abundant trematode in both locations. The turtle, carp and frog images in panel C were reproduced from Pixabay (,, and respectively), under the terms of the Pixabay license (

Trematode hierarchy in B. pfeifferi at Asao Stream.

The dominance hierarchy was worked out through both experimental superinfections of snails with existing infections (green numbers), and by maintaining infected snails from the field to see if they switched from shedding one type of cercaria to another (orange numbers). Percentages shown are the prevalence of infected B. pfeifferi (shedding/total number of B. pfeifferi collected) for each group.

Human and cattle parasite interactions at Asao Stream.

(A) Field-derived B. pfeifferi shown not to be shedding any cercariae at the time of collection were either left as unexposed controls or were exposed to S. mansoni (five miracidia/snail). Note that, unexpectedly, exposed snails were just as likely to subsequently shed C. sukari as S. mansoni cercariae compared to the control groups (p=<0.001). A few unexposed snails also shed cercariae, indicating that some of the snails had prepatent snails at the time of infection. (B) The prevalence of lab-reared B. pfeifferi exposed to various combinations of miracidia (see horizontal axis) of C. sukari and/or S. mansoni that subsequently shed cercariae of either species. Exposures to either species were with five miracidia/snail, 50 or 60 snails were used for each of 5 treatments for three separate experiments (total of 850 snails used). Separate ANOVAs were done for S. mansoni and C. sukari (each involving comparison of four groups), followed by pairwise comparisons. (C) Histological section of B. pfeifferi exposed to C. sukari for 8 days. Note the undeveloped sporocyst and the layer of hemocytes around it. (D) Histological section of B. pfeifferi exposed to S. mansoni for 8 days. The sporocyst has grown considerably and has developing daughter sporocysts within.

Field observations supported experimental results.

(A) Graph showing the number of single infections of B. pfeifferi with either S. mansoni or C. sukari and the number of observed double infections, which was significantly fewer than the number of double infections expected by chance (p=<0.001). (B) Correlation between the abundance of S. mansoni and C. sukari infections (XY pairs = 25, Pearson r = 0.622, p=0.0009) in B. pfeifferi from our stream survey data (prevalence of each parasite from 25 collection time points).

Figure 5 with 3 supplements
Mathematical model combining field and experimental observations.

(A) At three different levels of S. mansoni prevalence in snails, the predicted reduction in prevalence of shedding snails from our transmission model due to the presence of C. sukari is estimated. In each case, the proportion of snails shedding S. mansoni is reduced by at least one half in the presence of C. sukari. (B) Relationship from model showing how S. mansoni cercariae production is maximized in this system only when the input of S. mansoni miracidia is very high relative to the input of C. sukari miracidia.

Figure 5—figure supplement 1
Conceptual diagram of the mathematical model.

Each snail class includes both juvenile and adult age groups.

Figure 5—figure supplement 2
The proportion of snails shedding S. mansoni and C. sukari under a range of miracidial inputs and exposure rates.

The impact of miracidial input levels on the proportion of snails shedding each parasite and the miracidial input levels which result in levels seen in our field data vary with B. pfeifferi exposure rates.

Figure 5—figure supplement 3
The infection prevalence of S. mansoni and C. sukari in B. pfeifferi and their cercarial production are sensitive to both the exposure rate per week per snail density in the habitat and the weekly input of S. mansoni miracidia (3a), but less sensitive to the weekly input of C. sukari miracidia (3b).

Additional files

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Cite this article (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

  1. Martina R Laidemitt
  2. Larissa C Anderson
  3. Helen J Wearing
  4. Martin W Mutuku
  5. Gerald M Mkoji
  6. Eric S Loker
Antagonism between parasites within snail hosts impacts the transmission of human schistosomiasis
eLife 8:e50095.