Co-infection by multiple parasites is common within individuals. Interactions between co-infecting parasites include resource competition, direct competition and immune-mediated interactions and each are likely to alter the dynamics of single parasites. We posit that co-infection is a driver of variation in parasite establishment and growth, ultimately altering the production of parasite transmission stages. To test this hypothesis, three different treatment groups of laboratory mice were infected with the gastrointestinal helminth Heligmosomoides polygyrus, the respiratory bacterial pathogen Bordetella bronchiseptica lux+ or co-infected with both parasites. To follow co-infection simultaneously, self-bioluminescent bacteria were used to quantify infection in vivo and in real-time, while helminth egg production was monitored in real-time using faecal samples. Co-infection resulted in high bacterial loads early in the infection (within the first 5 days) that could cause host mortality. Co-infection also produced helminth 'super-shedders'; individuals that chronically shed the helminth eggs in larger than average numbers. Our study shows that co-infection may be one of the underlying mechanisms for the often-observed high variance in parasite load and shedding rates, and should thus be taken into consideration for disease management and control. Further, using self-bioluminescent bacterial reporters allowed quantification of the progression of infection within the whole animal of the same individuals at a fine temporal scale (daily) and significantly reduced the number of animals used (by 85%) compared with experiments that do not use in vivo techniques. Thus, we present bioluminescent imaging as a novel, non-invasive tool offering great potential to be taken forward into other applications of infectious disease ecology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biomedical Engineering