Recent Studies on Schistosoma intercalatum: Taxonomic Status, Puzzling Distribution and Transmission Foci Revisited


Schistosoma intercalatum, which causes human rectal schistosomiasis in Africa, still presents a great interest for its imprecise taxonomic status and its puzzling distribution in Africa. Two geographically isolated strains of S. intercalatum are recognized, the Lower Guinea strain and the Congo strain, which differ from each other in a number of morphological, biological and biochemical characteristics. Recent molecular data using RAPD markers indicate high divergence between the two strains, with values of Nei and Li’s similarity indice allowing recognition of two genetically distinct taxa: experiments on pre- and post-isolating mechanisms are in progress in order to re-evaluate the taxonomic status of this polytypic species. With regard to its geographical distribution, S. intercalatum is characterized by the existence of two stable endemic areas (localized in Lower Guinea and North East of Democratic Republic of Congo) which correspond to the historical areas of species discovery, and the emergence during the last 15 years of new foci of the Lower Guinea strain outside previously known endemic areas. The absence of local adaptation of the Lower Guinea strain to its intermediate host, supported by experimental studies, may help to facilitate the spread of this strain. Nevertheless, the present restricted distribution of this species remains puzzling, because its potential snail hosts (bulinids) are widely distributed throughout much of Africa. Recent experimental and epidemiological studies suggest that interspecific sexual interactions between human schistosomes could have a role in limiting the distribution of S. intercalatum: the competitive sexual processes acting among human schistosomes show that S. haematobium and S. mansoni are always competitively dominant over S. intercalatum. These epidemiological observations lead the authors to distinguish three kinds of transmission foci for S. intercalatum.