Schistosoma mansoni and Biomphalaria: past history and future trends

J. A. T.  MORGAN  a1, R. J.  DEJONG  a1, S. D.  SNYDER  a2, G. M.  MKOJI  a3 and E. S.  LOKER  a1 c1
a1 Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131 USA
a2 Department of Biology & Microbiology, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, 800 Algoma Boulevard, Oshkosh, WI 54901-8640 USA
a3 Center for Biotechnology Research and Development, Kenya Medical Research Institute, P.O. Box 54840, Nairobi, Kenya


Schistosoma mansoni is one of the most abundant infectious agents of humankind. Its widespread distribution is permitted by the broad geographic range of susceptible species of the freshwater snail genus Biomphalaria that serve as obligatory hosts for its larval stages. Molecular phylogenetic studies suggest that Schistosoma originated in Asia, and that a pulmonate-transmitted progenitor colonized Africa and gave rise to both terminal-spined and lateral-spined egg species groups, the latter containing S. mansoni. Schistosoma mansoni likely appeared only after the trans-Atlantic dispersal of Biomphalaria from the Neotropics to Africa, an event that, based on the present African fossil record, occurred only 2–5 million years ago. This parasite became abundant in tropical Africa and then entered the New World with the slave trade. It prospered in the Neotropics because a remarkably susceptible and productive host, B. glabrata, was widely distributed there. Indeed, a snail similar to B. glabrata may have given rise to the African species of Biomphalaria. Schistosoma mansoni has since spread into other Neotropical Biomphalaria species and mammalian hosts. The distribution of S. mansoni is in a state of flux. In Egypt, S. mansoni has nearly completely replaced S. haematobium in the Nile Delta, and has spread to other regions of the country. A susceptible host snail, B. straminea, has been introduced into Asia and there is evidence of S. mansoni transmission in Nepal. Dam and barrage construction has lead to an epidemic of S. mansoni in Senegal, and the parasite continues its spread in Brazil. Because of competition with introduced aquatic species and environmental changes, B. glabrata and consequently S. mansoni have become less abundant on the Caribbean islands. Control of S. mansoni using praziquantel and oxamniquine has reduced global prevalence but control is difficult to sustain, and S. mansoni can develop tolerance/resistance to praziquantel, raising concerns about its future efficacy. Because of legitimate environmental concerns, snail control is unlikely to be an option in future control efforts. Global warming will impact the distribution of Biomphalaria and S. mansoni, but the magnitude and nature of the effects are poorly understood.

Key Words: Schistosoma mansoni; Biomphalaria; evolution; distribution; control.

c1 Corresponding author: Eric S. Loker, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131 USA. Tel: (505) 277 5508. Fax: (505) 277 0304. E-mail: