Priority effects within coinfected hosts can drive unexpected population-scale patterns of parasite prevalence

7 October 2018

Clay, Patrick; Cortez, Michael; Duffy, Meghan; Rudolf, Volker H. W.

Organisms are frequently coinfected by multiple parasite strains and species, and interactions between parasites within hosts are known to influence parasite prevalence and diversity, as well as epidemic timing. Importantly, interactions between coinfecting parasites can be affected by the order in which they infect hosts (i.e. within-host priority effects). In this study, we use a single-host, two-pathogen, SI model with environmental transmission to explore how within-host priority effects scale up to alter host population-scale infection patterns. Specifically, we ask how parasite prevalence changes in the presence of different types of priority effects. We consider two scenarios without priority effects and four scenarios with priority effects where there is either an advantage or a disadvantage to being the first to infect in a coinfected host. Models without priority effects always predict negative relationships between the prevalences of both parasites. In contrast, models with priority effects can yield unimodal prevalence relationships where the prevalence of a focal parasite is minimized or maximized at intermediate prevalences of a coinfecting parasite. The mechanism behind this pattern is that as the prevalence of the coinfecting parasite increases, most infections of the focal parasite change from occurring as solo infections, to first arrival coinfections, to second arrival coinfections. The corresponding changes in parasite fitness as the focal parasite moves from one infection class to another then map to changes in focal parasite prevalence. Further, we found that even when parasites interact negatively within a host, they still can have positive prevalence relationships at the population scale. These results suggest that within-host priority effects can change host population-scale infection patterns in systematic (and initially counterintuitive) ways, and that taking them into account may improve disease forecasting in coinfected populations.