Opportunities and challenges for modelling epidemiological and evolutionary dynamics in a multihost, multiparasite system: Zoonotic hybrid schistosomiasis in West Africa

11 Aug 2017
Borlase A, Webster JP, Rudge JW

Multihost multiparasite systems are evolutionarily and ecologically dynamic, which presents substantial trans‐disciplinary challenges for elucidating their epidemiology and designing appropriate control. Evidence for hybridizations and introgressions between parasite species is gathering, in part in line with improvements in molecular diagnostics and genome sequencing. One major system where this is becoming apparent is within the Genus Schistosoma, where schistosomiasis represents a disease of considerable medical and veterinary importance, the greatest burden of which occurs in sub‐Saharan Africa. Interspecific hybridizations and introgressions bring an increased level of complexity over and above that already inherent within multihost, multiparasite systems, also representing an additional source of genetic variation that can drive evolution. This has the potential for profound implications for the control of parasitic diseases, including, but not exclusive to, widening host range, increased transmission potential and altered responses to drug therapy. Here, we present the challenging case example of haematobium group Schistosoma spp. hybrids in West Africa, a system involving multiple interacting parasites and multiple definitive hosts, in a region where zoonotic reservoirs of schistosomiasis were not previously considered to be of importance. We consider how existing mathematical model frameworks for schistosome transmission could be expanded and adapted to zoonotic hybrid systems, exploring how such model frameworks can utilize molecular and epidemiological data, as well as the complexities and challenges this presents. We also highlight the opportunities and value such mathematical models could bring to this and a range of similar multihost, multi and cross‐hybridizing parasites systems in our changing world.