Research Article: Potential Biological Control of Schistosomiasis by Fishes in the Lower Senegal River Basin

Date Published: January 21, 2019

Publisher: The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

Author(s): Martin C. Arostegui, Chelsea L. Wood, Isabel J. Jones, Andrew J. Chamberlin, Nicolas Jouanard, Djibril S. Faye, Armand M. Kuris, Gilles Riveau, Giulio A. De Leo, Susanne H. Sokolow.


More than 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with schistosome parasites. Transmission of schistosomiasis occurs when people come into contact with larval schistosomes emitted from freshwater snails in the aquatic environment. Thus, controlling snails through augmenting or restoring their natural enemies, such as native predators and competitors, could offer sustainable control for this human disease. Fishes may reduce schistosomiasis transmission directly, by preying on snails or parasites, or indirectly, by competing with snails for food or by reducing availability of macrophyte habitat (i.e., aquatic plants) where snails feed and reproduce. To identify fishes that might serve as native biological control agents for schistosomiasis in the lower Senegal River basin—one of the highest transmission areas for human schistosomiasis globally—we surveyed the freshwater fish that inhabit shallow, nearshore habitats and conducted multivariate analyses with quantitative diet data for each of the fish species encountered. Ten of the 16 fish species we encountered exhibited diets that may result in direct (predation) and/or indirect (food competition and habitat removal) control of snails. Fish abundance was low, suggesting limited effects on schistosomiasis transmission by the contemporary fish community in the lower Senegal River basin in the wild. Here, we highlight some native species—such as tilapia, West African lungfish, and freshwater prawns—that could be aquacultured for local-scale biological control of schistosomiasis transmission.

Partial Text

The first successful programs to prevent infectious diseases by controlling their nonhuman hosts were carried out at the beginning of the 20th century.1–4 More than 100 years later, parasites with complex life cycles continue to affect more than one billion people,5 representing one of the gravest ongoing health crises. An exemplary case is schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease affecting more than 200 million people in more than 70 countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa.5 The disease is caused by Schistosoma spp. trematodes.6,7 Adult schistosomes reside in human (the definitive host) blood vessels surrounding the intestines or bladder and shed eggs that escape the body via urine or feces. If those eggs contact fresh water, they hatch as miracidia that must locate, penetrate, and infect aquatic snails.8 The parasite reproduces asexually in its snail host, shedding free-swimming cercariae—as many as 2,000 or more per snail per day9—usually for the remaining life of the infected snail. Cercariae infect humans via skin penetration when they walk, bathe, or swim in infested freshwater lakes, ponds, streams, and irrigation canals. Schistosomiasis can cause mild to severe systemic disease, including anemia, growth stunting, chronic pain, fatigue, ascites, diarrhea, impaired cognition, infertility, and organ-specific pathologies, such as urinary dysfunction, kidney disease, enlarged spleen, liver fibrosis, portal hypertension, and increased susceptibility to hepatitis C, human immunodeficiency virus, sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, and liver and bladder cancers.10,11

Our sampling of the native ichthyofauna, in concert with analyses of corresponding literature diet data, suggest several native fish as potential biological control agents of schistosomiasis in the lower Senegal River basin. Although 62.5% of fish species we captured may serve as natural enemies of snails, most of the identified pathways for control were indirect (i.e., via consumption of algae and detritus, on which snails feed, and plants, on which snails feed, seek shelter, and reproduce) rather than direct (i.e., predation on snails). Although we observed low relative abundance of species with the highest estimated degree of snail foraging, some of these species could potentially be cultured and stocked to reduce local schistosomiasis transmission.




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