Border Leicester X Suffolk sheep infected with a strain of S. mattheei maintained in hamsters do not develop the same pathological changes as Romney Marsh sheep infected with the same strain of parasite before hamster passage. To determine the cause of this reduced pathogenicity, five Romney Marsh sheep were each infected with 10 000 cercariae of the hamster-passaged parasite and five with 10 000 cercariae of a S. mattheei strain from Onderstepoort, South Africa, passaged exclusively through sheep.
Striking pathological and parasitological differences were found between the two strains. Infection with the “sheep” strain was lethal, whereas infection with the “hamster” strain produced little evidence of clinical disease. By 13 weeks post-infection the mean body weight of the sheep infected with the sheep strain had declined by 15% compared with both the uninfected controls and the sheep infected with the hamster strain, and the mean PCV was lowered to 20% in the sheep strain infected animals. Egg production began at seven weeks with the sheep strain, faecal counts rising to more than 300 e.p.g., whereas only two of the sheep infected with the hamster strain passed eggs in the faeces (at nine weeks) and the maximum egg count was 50 e.p.g. Twice as many adult worms of the sheep strain were recovered, and, although the number of eggs found in the tissues “per worm pair” was not significantly different, overall egg production was higher for the sheep strain; also more of the sheep strain eggs were deposited in the intestines. Similar parasite differences were seen in a supplementary study in mice and it seemed that “attenuation” of the parasite had occurred, presumably due to its maintenance in hamsters. Histopathological observations and faecal egg counts both indicated an inability of hamster strain eggs to penetrate the intestinal lumen; this was probably important in reducing the pathogenicity of the hamster strain.