Age-dependent epidemiological patterns and strain diversity in helminth parasites.


Field studies of schistosomes and the major intestinal nematodes Trichuris trichiura and Ascaris lumbricoides repeatedly demonstrate that the intensity and prevalence of infection exhibit marked dependency on host age. Peak levels of infection typically occur in hosts aged between 10 and 14 yr in endemically infected communities. It has widely been assumed that the slow acquisition of resistance in adults is caused by repeated exposure to the same antigenic repertoire of a single parasite strain. Consequently, these empirical patterns have previously been taken to suggest that human immunity to helminth parasites confers poor protection against reinfection. Here, an alternative explanation is suggested on the basis of results from a simplified model of helminth transmission. It is proposed that the empirical observations can be attributed to the circulation of multiple helminth strains that each elicit highly protective immunity. If this hypothesis is correct, estimates of epidemiological parameters from field data and the potential for control of helminth diseases might require reevaluation.

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