Population biology of Schistosoma mating, aggregation, and transmission breakpoints: more reliable model analysis for the end-game in communities at risk.


Mathematical modeling is widely used for predictive analysis of control options for infectious agents. Challenging problems arise for modeling host-parasite systems having complex life-cycles and transmission environments. Macroparasites, like Schistosoma, inhabit highly fragmented habitats that shape their reproductive success and distribution. Overdispersion and mating success are important factors to consider in modeling control options for such systems. Simpler models based on mean worm burden (MWB) formulations do not take these into account and overestimate transmission. Proposed MWB revisions have employed prescribed distributions and mating factor corrections to derive modified MWB models that have qualitatively different equilibria, including 'breakpoints' below which the parasite goes to extinction, suggesting the possibility of elimination via long-term mass-treatment control. Despite common use, no one has attempted to validate the scope and hypotheses underlying such MWB approaches. We conducted a systematic analysis of both the classical MWB and more recent "stratified worm burden" (SWB) modeling that accounts for mating and reproductive hurdles (Allee effect). Our analysis reveals some similarities, including breakpoints, between MWB and SWB, but also significant differences between the two types of model. We show the classic MWB has inherent inconsistencies, and propose SWB as a reliable alternative for projection of long-term control outcomes.

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