Co-infections can alter the host immune responses and modify the intensity and dynamics of concurrent parasitic species. The extent of this effect depends on the properties of the system and the mechanisms of host-parasite and parasite-parasite interactions. We examined the immuno-epidemiology of a chronic co-infection to reveal the immune mediated relationships between two parasites colonising independent organs, and the within-host molecular processes influencing the dynamics of infection at the host population level. The respiratory bacterium, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and the gastrointestinal helminth, Graphidium strigosum, were studied in the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), using long-term field data and a laboratory experiment. We found that 65% of the rabbit population was co-infected with the two parasites; prevalence and intensity of co-infection increased with rabbit age and exhibited a strong seasonal pattern with the lowest values recorded during host breeding (from April to July) and the highest in the winter months. Laboratory infections showed no significant immune-mediated effects of the helminth on bacterial intensity in the lower respiratory tract but a higher abundance was observed in the nasal cavity during the chronic phase of the infection, compared with single bacterial infections. In contrast, B. bronchiseptica enhanced helminth intensity and this was consistent throughout the 4-month trial. These patterns were associated with changes in the immune profiles between singly and co-infected individuals for both parasites. This study confirmed the general observation that co-infections alter the host immune responses but also highlighted the often ignored role of bacterial infection in helminth dynamics. Additionally, we showed that G. strigosum had contrasting effects on B. bronchiseptica colonising different parts of the respiratory tract. At the host population level our findings suggest that B. bronchiseptica facilitates G. strigosum infection, and re-infection with G. strigosum assists in maintaining bacterial infection in the upper respiratory tract and thus long-term persistence.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Infectious Diseases