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Identifying the Achilles heel of multi-host pathogens: the concept of keystone ‘host’ species illustrated by Mycobacterium ulcerans transmission

Abstract : Pathogens that use multiple host species are an increasing public health issue due to their complex transmission, which makes them difficult to mitigate. Here, we explore the possibility of using networks of ecological interactions among potential host species to identify the particular disease-source species to target to break down transmission of such pathogens. We fit a mathematical model on prevalence data of Mycobacterium ulcerans in western Africa and we show that removing the most abundant taxa for this category of pathogen is not an optimal strategy to decrease the transmission of the mycobacterium within aquatic ecosystems. On the contrary, we reveal that the removal of some taxa, especially Oligochaeta worms, can clearly reduce rates of pathogen transmission, and these should be considered as keystone organisms for its transmission because they lead to a substantial reduction in pathogen prevalence regardless of the network topology. Besides their potential application for the understanding of M. ulcerans ecology, we discuss how networks of species interactions can modulate transmission of multi-host pathogens.
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Benjamin Roche, M. Eric Benbow, Richard Merritt, Ryan Kimbirauskas, Mollie Mcintosh, et al.. Identifying the Achilles heel of multi-host pathogens: the concept of keystone ‘host’ species illustrated by Mycobacterium ulcerans transmission. Environmental Research Letters, IOP Publishing, 2013, 8 (4), pp.045009. ⟨10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/045009⟩. ⟨hal-02391319⟩

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