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Keywords:

  • acquired immunity;
  • epidemiology;
  • immune responses;
  • mathematical models;
  • parasite infection

Summary Field studies of parasitic helminths in endemically infected human communities have provided quantitative information on the relationships between parasite burdens, immune responses and age. There are considerable difficulties in the interpretation of these immunoepidemiological data due to the complexities of the biological processes generating the observed patterns. In this paper simple mathematical models are used to explore the expected patterns of variation with host age in parasite burdens, the aggregation of parasites among hosts, levels of immune response, and the correlation between parasite burdens and immune responses. These relationships reflect rates of infection, rates of parasite mortality, the strength of the immune response, and the duration of immunological memory. The models generate some complex and counterintuitive patterns. The analysis suggests that some of these patterns might serve to (i) distinguish effects due to acquired immunity from effects due to age-dependent exposure, (ii) identify potentially protective immune responses, and (iii) identify the parasite stages important in the development of acquired immunity. The results imply that previous analyses of immunoepidemiological data may have been overly simplistic and, especially, that patterns believed to be inconsistent with protective immunity may have been incorrectly interpreted.