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Parasitol Today. 1998 Oct;14(10):428-34.

Patterns in parasite epidemiology: the peak shift.

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Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush, Roslin, Midlothian, UK EH25 9RG.


A characteristic relationship between infection and host age, with levels of infection reaching a peak in particular age classes, has been reported for many parasites. However, several field studies have shown that this relationship is not invariant: if age-infection data are compared across host populations, the peak level of infection is higher and occurs at a younger age when the transmission rate is high, and is lower and occurs at an older age when it is low. This pattern is called the ;peak shift'. Here, Mark Woolhouse reviews the evidence for and the implications of the peak shift. The peak shift is consistent with the predictions of mathematical models that assume gradually acquired protective immunity, and this interpretation is supported by experimental studies using animals. This agreement between theory, experimental evidence and field studies strongly suggests that acquired immunity has a major impact on epidemiological patterns not only for parasites such as malaria, where the importance of acquired immunity is not in doubt, but also for many parasitic helminths, where the role of acquired immunity is less widely accepted.

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