Plague, a zoonosis caused by Yersinia pestis, is still found in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Madagascar reports almost one third of the cases worldwide. Y. pestis can be encountered in three very different types of foci: urban, rural, and sylvatic. Flea vector and wild rodent host population dynamics are tightly correlated with modulation of climatic conditions, an association that could be crucial for both the maintenance of foci and human plague epidemics. The black rat Rattus rattus, the main host of Y. pestis in Madagascar, is found to exhibit high resistance to plague in endemic areas, opposing the concept of high mortality rates among rats exposed to the infection. Also, endemic fleas could play an essential role in maintenance of the foci. This review discusses recent advances in the understanding of the role of these factors as well as human behavior in the persistence of plague in Madagascar.
Landscape may affect the distribution of infectious diseases by influencing the population density and dispersal of hosts and vectors. Plague (Yersinia pestis infection) is a highly virulent, re-emerging disease, the ecology of which has been scarcely studied in Africa. Human seroprevalence data for the major plague focus of Madagascar suggest that plague spreads heterogeneously across the landscape as a function of the relief. Plague is primarily a disease of rodents. We therefore investigated the relationship between disease distribution and the population genetic structure of the black rat, Rattus rattus, the main reservoir of plague in Madagascar.
Although bubonic plague is an endemic zoonosis in many countries around the world, the factors responsible for the persistence of this highly virulent disease remain poorly known. Classically, the endemic persistence of plague is suspected to be due to the coexistence of plague resistant and plague susceptible rodents in natural foci, and/or to a metapopulation structure of reservoirs. Here, we test separately the effect of each of these factors on the long-term persistence of plague. We analyse the dynamics and equilibria of a model of plague propagation, consistent with plague ecology in Madagascar, a major focus where this disease is endemic since the 1920s in central highlands. By combining deterministic and stochastic analyses of this model, and including sensitivity analyses, we show that (i) endemicity is favoured by intermediate host population sizes, (ii) in large host populations, the presence of resistant rats is sufficient to explain long-term persistence of plague, and (iii) the metapopulation structure of susceptible host populations alone can also account for plague endemicity, thanks to both subdivision and the subsequent reduction in the size of subpopulations, and extinction-recolonization dynamics of the disease. In the light of these results, we suggest scenarios to explain the localized presence of plague in Madagascar.
Relapsing fever is the most frequent bacterial disease in Africa. Four main vector / pathogen complexes are classically recognized, with the louse Pediculus humanus acting as vector for B. recurrentis and the soft ticks Ornithodoros sonrai, O. erraticus and O. moubata acting as vectors for Borrelia crocidurae, B. hispanica and B. duttonii, respectively. Our aim was to investigate the epidemiology of the disease in West, North and Central Africa.
A phylogeographic study was conducted on the Nile grass rat, Arvicanthis niloticus, a rodent species that is tightly associated with open grasslands from the Sudano-Sahelian regions. Using one mitochondrial (cytochrome b) and one nuclear (intron 7 of Beta Fibrinogen) gene, robust patterns were retrieved that clearly show that (i) the species originated in East Africa concomitantly with expanding grasslands some 2 Ma, and (ii) four parapatric and genetically well-defined lineages differentiated essentially from East to West following Pleistocene bioclimatic cycles. This strongly points towards allopatric genetic divergence within savannah refuges during humid episodes, then dispersal during arid ones; secondary contact zones would have then stabilized around geographic barriers, namely, Niger River and Lake Chad basins. Our results pertinently add to those obtained for several other African rodent as well as non-rodent species that inhabit forests, humid zones, savannahs and deserts, all studies that now allow one to depict a more comprehensive picture of the Pleistocene history of the continent south of the Sahara. In particular, although their precise location remains to be determined, at least three Pleistocene refuges are identified within the West and Central African savannah biome.
Leptospirosis has long been a major public health concern in the southwestern Indian Ocean. However, in Madagascar, only a few, old studies have provided indirect serological evidence of the disease in humans or animals.
Plague affects mainly the rural areas in the central highlands of Madagascar. Rattus rattus is the main rodent host of Yersinia pestis in these localities. Since the introduction of plague, endemic foci have continued to expand, and spatiotemporal variability in the distribution of human plague has been observed. To assess the movements of R. rattus and evaluate the risk of dispersion of the disease, a field study at the scale of the habitats (houses, hedges of sisals, and rice fields) in the plague villages was carried out during high and low seasons of plague transmission to humans. The systemic oral marker Rhodamine B was used to follow rats movements. Baits were placed in different habitats, and trapping success was carried out once a month for 3 months after the bait distribution. Plague indicators (reservoirs abundance, flea index, Y. pestis prevalence in fleas, and Y. pestis antibody prevalence in rats) were determined. The highest abundance of rats and marking efficiency were observed in the sisal hedges and the rice fields. Marked rats were captured most commonly near the points where baits were initially placed. The main movements of rats were observed between the houses and sisal hedges. Major differences were observed between the seasons of high and low plague transmission. During the season of low plague transmission, rats were more abundant in the sisal hedges and rice fields, with rats moving from the houses to the rice fields. During the high plague transmission season, rats moved from the hedges of sisal to the rice fields. Important indicators of vector abundance and plague transmission were higher during the high plague transmission season. The three study habitats were the risk areas for plague transmission, but the risk appeared highest in the houses and sisals. Rats movements according to the season were likely directed by the availability of food.
Arenaviruses are usually rodent-borne viruses that constitute a major threat for human health. Among them, Lassa Fever Virus (LFV) occurs in Western Africa where it infects hundreds of thousands of people annually. According to the most recent surveys, LFV is hosted by one of the multimammate rats, Mastomys natalensis, but has never been detected in its sibling and sometimes sympatric species Mastomys erythroleucus. This pattern suggests that intrinsic, i.e. genetic properties underlie such a drastic epidemiological difference (M. natalensis as a reservoir vs. M. erythroleucus as a non-reservoir species). Here we investigate genomic differences between these two closely related rodent species by focusing on three genes that have recently been described as pivotal for LFV/human cell interactions: Dystroglycan (the LFV cellular receptor), LARGE-1 and LARGE-2 (two enzymes that are essential to Dystroglycan functioning). For all three genes, sequence analyses showed that amino-acid chains undergo extremely strong purifying selective pressures, and indicated that no nucleotide (therefore no tertiary structure) change can be advocated to explain species-specific differences in LFV-cellular mediation. Nevertheless, preliminary studies of kidney-specific expression profiles suggested that important species-specific differences exist between Mastomys species. Taking into account current knowledge about LFV-human cell interactions, our results may point towards a possible role for LARGE-1 and LARGE-2 enzymes at the intracellular replication level of the virus, rather than at the LFV-host cell receptor binding step.
An understanding of the evolutionary history and dynamics of invasive species is required for the construction of predictive models of future spread and the design of biological management measures. The black rat (Rattus rattus) is a major vertebrate invader with a worldwide distribution. Despite the severe ecological, economic and health impacts of this species, its evolutionary history has been little studied. We carried out extensive specimen sampling in Senegal, West Africa, and used microsatellite markers to describe the pattern and processes of invasion in this large continental area. The genetic data obtained were combined with historical knowledge concerning the presence of this species in Senegal. Data were analysed by a combination of Bayesian clustering and approximate Bayesian computation methods. The invasion pathways closely paralleled the history of human trade routes in Senegal. In several places, we detected the occurrence of multiple introductions from genetically different sources. Long-distance migration between towns and villages was also observed. Our findings suggest that genetic bottlenecks and admixture have played a major role in shaping the genetics of invasive black rats. These two processes may generate genetic novelty and favour rapid evolution along the invasion pathways.
Plague (Yersinia pestis infection) is a highly virulent rodent disease that persists in many natural ecosystems. The black rat (Rattus rattus) is the main host involved in the plague focus of the central highlands of Madagascar. Black rat populations from this area are highly resistant to plague, whereas those from areas in which the disease is absent (low altitude zones of Madagascar) are susceptible. Various lines of evidence suggest a role for the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) in plague resistance. We therefore used the MHC region as a candidate for detecting signatures of plague-mediated selection in Malagasy black rats, by comparing population genetic structures for five MHC-linked microsatellites and neutral markers in two sampling designs. We first compared four pairs of populations, each pair including one population from the plague focus and one from the disease-free zone. Plague-mediated selection was expected to result in greater genetic differentiation between the two zones than expected under neutrality and this was observed for one MHC-class I-linked locus (D20Img2). For this marker as well as for four other MHC-linked loci, a geographic pattern of genetic structure was found at local scale within the plague focus. This pattern would be expected if plague selection pressures were spatially variable. Finally, another MHC-class I-linked locus (D20Rat21) showed evidences of balancing selection, but it seems more likely that this selection would be related to unknown pathogens more widely distributed in Madagascar than plague.
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