Epidemiology of infections and co-infections: Impact on survival and growth of zebu cattle under one year
Mwangi, Samuel Thumbi
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In any host population, individuals may be infected with multiple pathogens concurrently or in sequence. The direction and strength of pathogen-pathogen interactions are often unknown and dependent on the mechanism of interaction. This thesis is concerned with the epidemiology of infections and coinfections in zebu cattle during their first year of life, and the consequences they have for hosts’ survival probabilities and growth rates. Specifically, the study aims to: a) identify the many different pathogen infections occurring in zebu cattle under one year old, b) identify the main causes of mortality and reduced growth rates, c) test for evidence of effects of pathogen-pathogen interactions on mortality and growth, and d) determine the risk factors for infections with pathogens associated with increased mortality and reduced growth rates in zebu calves. To achieve these aims data collected from an epidemiological follow-up study of a cohort of 548 indigenous zebu cattle, recruited at birth and followed for the entire first year of life was used. Growth rates were enormously variable (52 to 704% of birth-weight) and 88 (16%) of the calves died during the first year, most from infectious disease. In total, 25,104 calf weeks of observation and data from 5,337 individual calf visits were analysed. Over 50 different pathogens were identified in the cohort. The thesis begins by providing an overview of zebu cattle and the importance of cattle diseases relevant to Sub-Saharan Africa, emphasising the importance of epidemiological studies taking into account co-infections, which are common in the natural populations, as opposed to a single-pathogen focus. A detailed description of the study design, data collection and descriptive analysis of non-infectious factors, including management and environmental factors, and a descriptive analysis of all pathogens screened for in the study are provided. Using Cox proportional models with frailty terms, the study then identifies infectious and non-infectious risk factors associated with mortality. Further, the role co-infections play in decreasing survival probabilities are investigated, revealing that the hazard for death from East Coast Fever (ECF) - the single most important disease associated with 40% of all deaths - increases 10 times in animals co-infected with Trypanosoma species, and 1.3 times for every 1000 eggs per gram faeces increase in strongyle egg count. Mixed-effect models are used to study growth rates and the impact of coinfections, revealing both synergistic interactions (lower host growth rates) of T. parva and A. marginale co-infections, and antagonistic interactions (relatively higher host growth rates) of T. parva and T. mutans co-infections compared to single infections with T. parva. Further, this work shows that helminth infections can have a strong negative effect on the growth rates but this is burden-dependent. These findings provide baseline epidemiological data on the diseases with greatest impact on health and performance of young zebu cattle, information that is valuable in the prioritisation and control of diseases. Additionally, they provide evidence of co-infections affecting host growth and survival, and have important implications on disease control strategies, suggesting benefits of aan integrated approach to control of worm, tick and tsetse-borne diseases.