Previous studies suggest that humans can acquire immunity to reinfection with schistosomes, most probably due to immunologic mechanisms acquired after exposure to dying schistosome worms.
We followed longitudinally two cohorts of adult males occupationally exposed to Schistosoma mansoni by washing cars (120 men) or harvesting sand (53 men) in Lake Victoria. Men were treated with praziquantel each time S. mansoni infection was detected. In car washers, a significant increase in resistance to reinfection, as measured by the number of cars washed between cure and reinfection, was observed after the car washers had experienced, on average, seven cures. In the car washers who developed resistance, the level of schistosome-specific IgE increased between baseline and the time at which development of resistance was first evidenced. In the sand harvesters, a significant increase in resistance, as measured by the number of days worked in the lake between cure and reinfection, was observed after only two cures. History of exposure to S. mansoni differed between the two cohorts, with the majority of sand harvesters being lifelong residents of a village endemic for S. mansoni and the majority of car washers having little exposure to the lake before they began washing cars. Immune responses at study entry were indicative of more recent infections in car washers and more chronic infections in sand harvesters.
Schistosomiasis is a parasitic blood fluke infection of 200 million people worldwide. We have shown that humans can acquire immunity to reinfection after repeated exposures and cures with the drug praziquantel. The increase in resistance to reinfection was associated with an increase in schistosome-specific IgE. The ability to develop resistance and the rate at which resistance was acquired varied greatly in two cohorts of men within close geographic proximity and with similar occupational exposures to schistosomes. These differences are likely attributable to differences in history of exposure to Schistosoma mansoni infection and immunologic status at baseline, with those acquiring immunity faster having lifelong S. mansoni exposure and immunologic evidence of chronic S. mansoni infection. As many conflicting results have been reported in the literature regarding immunologic parameters associated with the development of resistance to schistosome infection, exposure history and prior immune status should be considered in the design of future immuno-epidemiologic studies.