Antagonism Between Two Intestinal Parasites in Humans: The Importance of Co-Infection for Infection Risk and Recovery Dynamics

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Co-infection may affect transmission and recovery from infection, but remains an understudied element of disease ecology, particularly with regard to antagonism between parasites sharing a host. Helminth and giardia infections are often endemic in the same populations and both occupy the small intestine; yet few studies have examined interactions between these parasites. We report on helminth–giardia co-infections in a panel study of forager–horticulturalists in the Bolivian lowlands. Parasites were identified in faecal samples from 3275 participants, collected during 5235 medical exams over 6 years. Longitudinal co-infection patterns were examined using logistic mixed and multi-state Markov models. The most prevalent infections were hookworm (56%), Giardia lamblia (30%) and Ascaris lumbricoides (15%). Cross-sectionally, hookworm and A. lumbricoides were negatively associated with G. lamblia (OR = 0.60; OR = 0.65, respectively). Longitudinally, giardia infection was less likely in helminth-infected individuals (HR: 0.46). Infection with helminths was also less likely for individuals infected with giardia (HR: 0.71). Finally, treatment with mebendazole reduced subsequent hookworm infections, but resulted in a marginal increase in the odds of G. lamblia infection. Our results provide evidence for an antagonistic relationship between helminths and giardia, and suggest that co-infection should be considered in disease transmission models and treatment decisions.


This article was originally published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, volume 280, issue 1769, in 2013.

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The Royal Society