Objective: In Belize, the main vector for Trypanosoma cruzi, the agent of Chagas disease, is Triatoma dimidiata, but transmission cycles and the risk for human infection are unclear. Therefore, the aim of this study was to identify T. dimidiata blood feeding sources and its parasite and microbial diversity, in order to reconstruct T. cruzi parasite transmission ecology in southern Belize.
Methods: A metabarcoding approach based on deep sequencing of markers was used for bug taxonomy, blood meal sources, T. cruzi genotypes, and microbiota composition. Bugs were collected in 13 villages of Toledo district.
Results: Bugs fed on at least 13 species, from domestic hosts such as humans, dogs, cows, and pigs, to synanthropic species such as mice, rats, and opossums, and sylvatic species such as deer, peccary, and kinkajou, in agreement with an opportunistic feeding behavior. Nonetheless, most feeding focused on a few species, including humans. Infection with T. cruzi was detected in 24 of 39 bugs (62%), and the analysis of 242 T. cruzi mini-exon sequences (average 10 ± 5 haplotypes per bug) indicated the presence of TcI and TcIV parasite discrete typing units (DTUs). However, for both DTUs, sequences from Belize mostly clustered apart from sequences from North and South America, suggesting the local differentiation of parasites. T. dimidiata also harbored a diverse bacterial microbiota, with ontogenic changes suggesting microbiota maturation during nymphal development.
Conclusions: Together, these results indicate a significant risk for T. cruzi infection in humans. They also highlight the need to better characterize the diversity of T. cruzi strains in the region and its impact on disease epidemiology.
Keywords: Blood meal; Chagas disease; Hematophagous; Microbiome; Parasite diversity; Transmission network.
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