Demographic patterns of human antibody levels to Simulium damnosum s.l. saliva in onchocerciasis-endemic areas: An indicator of exposure to vector bites

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2022 Jan 12;16(1):e0010108. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0010108. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: In onchocerciasis endemic areas in Africa, heterogenous biting rates by blackfly vectors on humans are assumed to partially explain age- and sex-dependent infection patterns with Onchocerca volvulus. To underpin these assumptions and further improve predictions made by onchocerciasis transmission models, demographic patterns in antibody responses to salivary antigens of Simulium damnosum s.l. are evaluated as a measure of blackfly exposure.

Methodology/principal findings: Recently developed IgG and IgM anti-saliva immunoassays for S. damnosum s.l. were applied to blood samples collected from residents in four onchocerciasis endemic villages in Ghana. Demographic patterns in antibody levels according to village, sex and age were explored by fitting generalized linear models. Antibody levels varied between villages but showed consistent patterns with age and sex. Both IgG and IgM responses declined with increasing age. IgG responses were generally lower in males than in females and exhibited a steeper decline in adult males than in adult females. No sex-specific difference was observed in IgM responses.

Conclusions/significance: The decline in age-specific antibody patterns suggested development of immunotolerance or desensitization to blackfly saliva antigen in response to persistent exposure. The variation between sexes, and between adults and youngsters may reflect differences in behaviour influencing cumulative exposure. These measures of antibody acquisition and decay could be incorporated into onchocerciasis transmission models towards informing onchocerciasis control, elimination, and surveillance.