Freshwater snails of biomedical importance in the Niger River Valley: evidence of temporal and spatial patterns in abundance, distribution and infection with Schistosoma spp.
Sound knowledge of the abundance and distribution of intermediate host snails is key to understanding schistosomiasis transmission and to inform effective interventions in endemic areas.
A longitudinal field survey of freshwater snails of biomedical importance was undertaken in the Niger River Valley (NRV) between July 2011 and January 2016, targeting Bulinus spp. and Biomphalaria pfeifferi (intermediate hosts of Schistosoma spp.), and Radix natalensis (intermediate host of Fasciola spp.). Monthly snail collections were carried out in 92 sites, near 20 localities endemic for S. haematobium. All bulinids and Bi. pfeifferi were inspected for infection with Schistosoma spp., and R. natalensis for infection with Fasciola spp.
Bulinus truncatus was the most abundant species found, followed by Bulinus forskalii, R. natalensis and Bi. pfeifferi. High abundance was associated with irrigation canals for all species with highest numbers of Bulinus spp. and R. natalensis. Seasonality in abundance was statistically significant in all species, with greater numbers associated with dry season months in the first half of the year. Both B. truncatus and R. natalensis showed a negative association with some wet season months, particularly August. Prevalences of Schistosoma spp. within snails across the entire study were as follows: Bi. pfeifferi: 3.45% (79/2290); B. truncatus: 0.8% (342/42,500); and B. forskalii: 0.2% (24/11,989). No R. natalensis (n = 2530) were infected. Seasonality of infection was evident for B. truncatus, with highest proportions shedding in the middle of the dry season and lowest in the rainy season, and month being a significant predictor of infection. Bulinus spp. and Bi. pfeifferi showed a significant correlation of snail abundance with the number of snails shedding. In B. truncatus, both prevalence of Schistosoma spp. infection, and abundance of shedding snails were significantly higher in pond habitats than in irrigation canals.
Evidence of seasonality in both overall snail abundance and infection with Schistosoma spp. in B. truncatus, the main intermediate host in the region, has significant implications for monitoring and interrupting transmission of Schistosoma spp. in the NRV. Monthly longitudinal surveys, representing intensive sampling effort have provided the resolution needed to ascertain both temporal and spatial trends in this study. These data can inform planning of interventions and treatment within the region.