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Species-specific qPCR assays allow for high-resolution population assessment of four species avian schistosome that cause swimmer's itch in recreational lakes

Rudko, Sydney P., Turnbull, Alyssa, Reimink, Ronald L., Froelich, Kelsey, Hanington, Patrick C.
International journal for parasitology 2019 v.9 pp. 122-129
DNA, Schistosoma, Trichobilharzia szidati, birds, cercariae, definitive hosts, lakes, larval development, mammals, parasites, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, snails, summer, surveys, Michigan
Swimmer's itch is an allergic condition that occurs when the motile and infectious stage of avian schistosomes penetrate the skin of an individual. Flatworm parasites that cause swimmer's itch belong to the family Schistosomatidae. They utilize a variety of different species of bird and mammal as definitive hosts, and rely on different species of snail, in which they complete their larval development to culminate in a motile, aquatic, infectious stage called a cercaria. Recently, qPCR-based assays have been developed to monitor for swimmer's itch-causing trematodes in recreational water. This environmental DNA approach has been useful for quantifying the abundance of the free-living cercaria, the causative agent of swimmer's itch. However, the existing qPCR test amplifies from all known schistosome species, making it excellent for assessing a site for swimmer's itch potential, but not useful in determining the specific species contributing to swimmer's itch or the likely hosts (snail and bird) of the swimmer's itch-causing parasites. Thus, species-specific resolution built into a qPCR test would be useful in answering ecological questions about swimmer's itch cause, and efficacy of control efforts. This paper details bird, snail, and cercaria surveys conducted in the summer of 2018, that culminated in the development and deployment of four species-specific qPCR assays, capable of detecting Trichobilharzia stagnicolae, Trichobilharzia szidati, Trichobilharzia physellae, and Anserobilharzia brantae in recreational water. These assays were used to assess the relative abundance of each parasite in water samples collected from lakes in Northern Michigan.