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Population genomic analyses of schistosome parasites highlight critical challenges facing endgame elimination efforts.

Abstract

Schistosomiasis persists in Asian regions despite aggressive elimination measures. To identify factors enabling continued parasite transmission, we performed reduced representation genome sequencing on Schistosoma japonicum miracidia collected across multiple years from transmission hotspots in Sichuan, China. We discovered strong geographic structure, suggesting that local, rather than imported, reservoirs are key sources of persistent infections in the region. At the village level, parasites collected after referral for praziquantel treatment are closely related to local pre-treatment populations. Schistosomes within villages are also highly related, suggesting that only a few parasites from a limited number of hosts drive re-infection. The close familial relationships among miracidia from different human hosts also implicate short transmission routes among humans. At the individual host level, genetic evidence indicates that multiple humans retained infections following referral for treatment. Our findings suggest that end-game schistosomiasis control measures should focus on completely extirpating local parasite reservoirs and confirming successful treatment of infected human hosts.

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