Potential effects of mixed infections in ticks on transmission dynamics of pathogens: comparative analysis of published records
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Ticks are often infected with more than one pathogen, and several field surveys have documented nonrandom levels of coinfection. Levels of coinfection by pathogens in four tick species were analyzed using published infection data. Coinfection patterns of pathogens in field-collected ticks include numerous cases of higher or lower levels of coinfection than would be expected due to chance alone, but the vast majority of these cases can be explained on the basis of vertebrate host associations of the pathogens, without invoking interactions between pathogens within ticks. Nevertheless, some studies have demonstrated antagonistic interactions, and some have suggested potential mutualisms, between pathogens in ticks. Negative or positive interactions between pathogens within ticks can affect pathogen prevalence, and thus transmission patterns. Probabilistic projections suggest that the effect on transmission depends on initial conditions. When the number of tick bites is relatively low (e.g., for ticks biting humans) changes in prevalence in ticks are predicted to have a commensurate effects on pathogen transmission. In contrast, when the number of tick bites is high (e.g., for wild animal hosts) changes in pathogen prevalence in ticks have relatively little effect on levels of transmission to reservoir hosts, and thus on natural transmission cycles.
KeywordsMixed infections Ticks Coinfection Transmission dynamics
I thank R.A. LeBrun and G. Olsen for constructive comments on early drafts of the manuscript. This work was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
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