Spillover, hybridization, and persistence in schistosome transmission dynamics at the human–animal interface

12 Oct 2021
Anna Borlase, James W. Rudge, Elsa Léger, Nicolas D. Diouf, Cheikh B. Fall, Samba D. Diop, Stefano Catalano, Mariama Sène, and Joanne P. Webster


The threat to public health that is presented by zoonotic spillover of pathogens from animal reservoirs is predicted to increase with rapid anthropogenic changes and global trends such as migration and changing land use. Schistosomiasis currently infects more than 220 million people worldwide, and the multihost Schistosoma spp. system within Africa is a key example of where spillover of animal parasites into human populations has enabled the formation of viable hybrid parasite genotypes. Our study demonstrates how zoonotic spillover and complex interactions between pathogen species, such as parasite hybridization, may have implications such as resilience to current disease control strategies and may facilitate the spread of tropical diseases such as schistosomiasis beyond their original geographical boundaries.


Zoonotic spillover and hybridization of parasites are major emerging public and veterinary health concerns at the interface of infectious disease biology, evolution, and control. Schistosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease of global importance caused by parasites of the Schistosoma genus, and the Schistosoma spp. system within Africa represents a key example of a system where spillover of animal parasites into human populations has enabled formation of hybrids.

Combining model-based approaches and analyses of parasitological, molecular, and epidemiological data from northern Senegal, a region with a high prevalence of schistosome hybrids, we aimed to unravel the transmission dynamics of this complex multihost, multiparasite system. Using Bayesian methods and by estimating the basic reproduction number (R0), we evaluate the frequency of zoonotic spillover of Schistosoma bovis from livestock and the potential for onward transmission of hybrid S. bovis × S. haematobium offspring within human populations.

We estimate R0 of hybrid schistosomes to be greater than the critical threshold of one (1.76; 95% CI 1.59 to 1.99), demonstrating the potential for hybridization to facilitate spread and establishment of schistosomiasis beyond its original geographical boundaries. We estimate R0 for S. bovis to be greater than one in cattle (1.43; 95% CI 1.24 to 1.85) but not in other ruminants, confirming cattle as the primary zoonotic reservoir. Through longitudinal simulations, we also show that where S. bovis and S. haematobium are coendemic (in livestock and humans respectively), the relative importance of zoonotic transmission is predicted to increase as the disease in humans nears elimination.

Read the full article on PNAS

One Health