Journal of Helminthology

Research Papers

Schistosomes in the southwest United States and their potential for causing cercarial dermatitis or ‘swimmer's itch’

S.V. Branta1 c1 and E.S. Lokera1

a1 Division of Parasitology, Department of Biology, Center for Evolutionary and Theoretical Immunology, Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico, 167 Castetter Hall, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110, USA

Abstract

Cercarial dermatitis or swimmer's itch results when cercariae of schistosomes penetrate human skin and initiate inflammatory responses. The parasites typically die in the skin but in some cases may persist and infect other organs. Cercarial dermatitis is caused by a complex and poorly known assemblage of schistosome species, and can occur in any location where people come in contact with water bodies harbouring schistosome-infected snails. In North America, most cases are reported from the upper Midwest. In south-western USA, this phenomenon has not been well studied, and it is not known which schistosome species are present, or if cercarial dermatitis occurs with any regularity. As part of our ongoing studies of schistosome diversity, using morphological traits and sequence data to differentiate species, we have thus far identified eight schistosome genetic lineages from snails from New Mexico and Colorado. We have investigated two cercarial dermatitis outbreaks, one occurring in Stubblefield Lake in northern New Mexico, and one in Prospect Lake in the heart of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The New Mexico outbreak involved either one or two different avian schistosome species, both transmitted by physid snails. The Colorado outbreak was due to Trichobilharzia brantae, a species transmitted by geese and the snail Gyraulus parvus. These outbreaks are in contrast to those in northern states where schistosomes infecting snails of the family Lymnaeidae are more often responsible for outbreaks. Our survey suggests that dermatitis-causing schistosomes are not rare in the southwest, and that there are plenty of opportunities for dermatitis outbreaks to occur in this region.

(Accepted February 07 2009)

(Online publication April 15 2009)

Correspondence:

c1 E-mail: sbrant@unm.edu