Worms and germs: the population dynamic consequences of microparasite-macroparasite co-infection

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Hosts are typically simultaneously co-infected by a variety of microparasites (e.g. viruses and bacteria) and macroparasites (e.g. parasitic helminths). However, the population dynamical consequences of such co-infections and the implications for the effectiveness of imposed control programmes have yet to be fully realised. Mathematical models may provide an important framework for exploring such issues and have proved invaluable in helping to understand the factors affecting the epidemiology of single parasitic infections. Here the first population dynamic model of microparasite-macroparasite co-infection is presented and used to explore how co-infection alters the predictions of the existing single-species models. It is shown that incorporating an additional parasite species into existing models can greatly stabilise them, due to the combined density-dependent impacts on the host population, but co-infection can also restrict the region of parameter space where each species could persist alone. Overall it is concluded that the dynamic feedback between host, micro-parasite and macroparasite means that it is difficult to appreciate the factors affecting parasite persistence and predict the effectiveness of control by just studying one component in isolation.

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