Research Article

Covariance in parasite burdens: the effect of predisposition to infection

H. I. McCalluma1

a1 Department of Zoology, University of Queensland, St Lucia 4067, Australia


Recently the phenomenon of predisposition to helminth infection has been reported in a number of studies: those individuals which are heavily infected before treatment with an anthelmintic tend also to acquire heavy parasite burdens following a period of reinfection. This correlation between parasite burdens in initial and reinfections is generated by differences between hosts in their exposure to infective stages and in their susceptibility to infection. Inter-host differences in these factors also generate the aggregated or over-dispersed parasite distributions that are usually observed. This paper uses probability theory to predict the correlation between initial and reinfection parasite burdens assuming that those inter-host differences which generate over-dispersion remain constant for a given individual between initial and reinfection periods. The predicted correlation is considerably greater than is observed in most published data sets. Over-dispersion is thus generated by variability between hosts which has components that remain constant between initial and reinfection and also components which vary between infection periods. The model is modified to account for those two sources of variability, and the result applied to published data to determine the contributions made by short and long-term factors to the observed distributions.

(Accepted July 03 1989)