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Proc Biol Sci. 1996 Jun 22;263(1371):715-21.

The curse of the pharaoh: the evolution of virulence in pathogens with long living propagules.

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  • 1Wellcome Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, Department of Zoology, Oxford University, UK.


We used a mathematical model to evaluate the hypothesis that parasites and pathogens with long living propagules should evolve high levels of virulence, i.e. high rates of pathogen-induced host mortality. Our model shows that the optimal level of virulence is independent of the longevity of the propagules either: (i) if the density or the prevalence of infected hosts is in (or fluctuates around) equilibrium; or (ii) if the death rate of the infected host population is high compared with that of the propagules. The level of virulence that maximizes the parasite's fitness (Multhusian parameter) increases with increasing longevity of its propagules only if the host-parasite system has not reached equilibrium and the death rate of the propagules is high relative to that of the infected hosts. Therefore, for parasites that have recently invaded a susceptible host population, greater propagule longevity may initially favour higher virulence; but once the equilibrium is reached the optimal virulence is independent of propagule longevity.

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