Haemonchus contortus infection in sheep: Parasite fecundity correlates with worm size and host lymphocyte counts

Anthony Rowe, Kate McMaster, David Emery, Nicholas Sangster

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38 Citations (Scopus)


Two experiments were conducted to elucidate the timing and nature of the sheep immune response to Haemonchus contortus (Barber's pole worm). The first experiment examined the establishment of H. contortus populations and the immune response by comparing a bolus infection of third-stage larvae in naïve sheep with a group previously primed by a trickle infection. The second experiment used staggered doses of ivermectin-resistant larvae to compare the development of adult worms during different durations of trickle infection with ivermectin-sensitive larvae. Infections successfully generated pathological signs of haemonchosis such as anaemia. Image analysis software was used to measure the area and perimeter of worms collected at post-mortem, and the number of eggs present in individual adult females (fecundity) was significantly correlated with worm size. A significant inverse correlation was found between blood lymphocyte counts and worm fecundity. The absence of correlation between worm fecundity and other leukocyte and erythrocyte counts highlighted the specificity of the lymphocyte response. This is the first report of a link between haematology profiles and worm fecundity in haemonchosis. The correlation observed between adult worm size and egg content leads to the hypothesis that egg production in H. contortus is limited by immune regulation of worm size and presumably growth. Mean worm size and fecundity declined as sheep received more prolonged trickle infections before necropsy, confirming previous reports that immune responses to adult worms are enhanced by ongoing larval challenge. Immunohistochemical results showed trends consistent with a Th2 (humoral) immune response which has been implicated in reducing nematode burdens in several species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-293
Number of pages9
JournalVeterinary Parasitology
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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