Age trends in asymptomatic and symptomatic Leishmania donovani infection in the Indian subcontinent: A review and analysis of data from diagnostic and epidemiological studies.
Background: Age patterns in asymptomatic and symptomatic infection with Leishmania donovani, the causative agent of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) in the Indian subcontinent (ISC), are currently poorly understood. Age-stratified serology and infection incidence have been used to assess transmission levels of other diseases, which suggests that they may also be of use for monitoring and targeting control programmes to achieve elimination of VL and should be included in VL transmission dynamic models. We therefore analysed available age-stratified data on both disease incidence and prevalence of immune markers with the aim of collating the currently available data, estimating rates of infection, and informing modelling and future data collection.
Methodology/Principal findings: A systematic literature search yielded 13 infection prevalence and 7 VL incidence studies meeting the inclusion criteria. Statistical tests were performed to identify trends by age, and according to diagnostic cut-off. Simple reversible catalytic models with age-independent and age-dependent infection rates were fitted to the prevalence data to estimate infection and reversion rates, and to test different hypotheses about the origin of variation in these rates. Most of the studies showed an increase in infection prevalence with age: from ≲10% seroprevalence (<20% Leishmanin skin test (LST) positivity) for 0-10-year-olds to >10% seroprevalence (>20% LST-positivity) for 30-40-year-olds, but overall prevalence varied considerably between studies. VL incidence was lower amongst 0-5-year-olds than older age groups in most studies; most showing a peak in incidence between ages 5 and 20. The age-independent catalytic model provided the best overall fit to the infection prevalence data, but the estimated rates for the less parsimonious age-dependent model were much closer to estimates from longitudinal studies, suggesting that infection rates may increase with age.
Conclusions/Significance: Age patterns in asymptomatic infection prevalence and VL incidence in the ISC vary considerably with geographical location and time period. The increase in infection prevalence with age and peaked age-VL-incidence distribution may be due to lower exposure to infectious sandfly bites in young children, but also suggest that acquired immunity to the parasite increases with age. However, poor standardisation of serological tests makes it difficult to compare data from different studies and draw firm conclusions about drivers of variation in observed age patterns.