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PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2010 Apr 27;4(4):e656. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000656.

Estimating contact process saturation in sylvatic transmission of Trypanosoma cruzi in the United States.

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  • 1Mathematics Department, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, Texas, United States of America.


Although it has been known for nearly a century that strains of Trypanosoma cruzi, the etiological agent for Chagas' disease, are enzootic in the southern U.S., much remains unknown about the dynamics of its transmission in the sylvatic cycles that maintain it, including the relative importance of different transmission routes. Mathematical models can fill in gaps where field and lab data are difficult to collect, but they need as inputs the values of certain key demographic and epidemiological quantities which parametrize the models. In particular, they determine whether saturation occurs in the contact processes that communicate the infection between the two populations. Concentrating on raccoons, opossums, and woodrats as hosts in Texas and the southeastern U.S., and the vectors Triatoma sanguisuga and Triatoma gerstaeckeri, we use an exhaustive literature review to derive estimates for fundamental parameters, and use simple mathematical models to illustrate a method for estimating infection rates indirectly based on prevalence data. Results are used to draw conclusions about saturation and which population density drives each of the two contact-based infection processes (stercorarian/bloodborne and oral). Analysis suggests that the vector feeding process associated with stercorarian transmission to hosts and bloodborne transmission to vectors is limited by the population density of vectors when dealing with woodrats, but by that of hosts when dealing with raccoons and opossums, while the predation of hosts on vectors which drives oral transmission to hosts is limited by the population density of hosts. Confidence in these conclusions is limited by a severe paucity of data underlying associated parameter estimates, but the approaches developed here can also be applied to the study of other vector-borne infections.

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