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Int J Parasitol. 2003 Aug;33(9):909-17.

Empirical evidence for key hosts in persistence of a tick-borne disease.

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Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Stirling, Scotland Stirling, FK9 4LA, UK.


An important epidemiological consequence of aggregated host-parasite associations occurs when parasites are vectors of pathogens. Those hosts that attract many vectors will tend to be the focus of transmission. But to what extent, and can we identify characteristics of these key hosts? We investigated these questions with respect to the host-tick relationship of the yellow-necked mouse, Apodemus flavicollis, a critical host in the maintenance of the zoonotic disease, tick-borne encephalitis. Transmission of the virus occurs when ticks feed in a 'co-feeding' aggregation. Thus, the number and frequency of co-feeding groups provides an estimate of the potential rate of virus transmission. We recorded the spatio-temporal variations in co-feeding on a population of rodents in conjunction with recording individual host characteristics. Using Lorenz curves, we revealed conformation of tick-borne encephalitis transmission potential to the 20/80 Rule, where the 20% of hosts most infested with ticks were accountable for 80% of transmission potential. Hosts in the transmission cohort were identified as the sexually mature males of high body mass. Therefore control efforts targeted at this group would substantially reduce transmission potential compared to non-targeted control of the population, which resulted in a linear reduction in transmission potential. Focusing on the 'wrong' functional group would have little impact upon transmission potential until a considerable proportion of the population had been subject to control. However, individuals can change their functional status over time making it difficult to predict the contribution of these individuals to future transmission.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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