Immunity, antigenic heterogeneity, and aggregation of helminth parasites.


Empirical studies of helminth parasites reveal that the distribution of parasite burdens in their host populations is highly aggregated. This aggregation is fundamental to the ecology and epidemiology of helminth parasites. Results from a stochastic model predict that aggregation of helminth parasites is inversely related to the intensity of host immunity. Aggregation also decreases with antigenic heterogeneity and increases with heterogeneity in transmissibility among parasite strains. It is also found that the degree of aggregation is greater when immunity affects parasite fecundity than when immunity acts on host susceptibility. Potential relevance of this result for assessing the influence of vaccines that target either host susceptibility or parasite fecundity on the level of aggregation and consequent effects on drug resistance and disease prevalence are discussed.

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