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Parasite burden varies widely between individuals within a population, and can covary with multiple aspects of individual phenotype. Here we investigate the sources of variation in faecal strongyle eggs counts, and its association with body weight and a suite of haematological measures, in a cohort of indigenous zebu calves in Western Kenya, using relatedness matrices reconstructed from single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotypes. Strongyle egg count was heritable (h2 = 23·9%, s.e. = 11·8%) and we also found heritability of white blood cell counts (WBC) (h2 = 27·6%, s.e. = 10·6%). All the traits investigated showed negative phenotypic covariances with strongyle egg count throughout the first year: high worm counts were associated with low values of WBC, red blood cell count, total serum protein and absolute eosinophil count. Furthermore, calf body weight at 1 week old was a significant predictor of strongyle EPG at 16–51 weeks, with smaller calves having a higher strongyle egg count later in life. Our results indicate a genetic basis to strongyle EPG in this population, and also reveal consistently strong negative associations between strongyle infection and other important aspects of the multivariate phenotype.
Tick-borne diseases are a major impediment to improved productivity of livestock in sub-Saharan Africa. Improved control of these diseases would be assisted by detailed epidemiological data. Here we used longitudinal, serological data to determine the patterns of exposure to Theileria parva, Theileria mutans, Babesia bigemina and Anaplasma marginale from 548 indigenous calves in western Kenya. The percentage of calves seropositive for the first three parasites declined from initial high levels due to maternal antibody until week 16, after which the percentage increased until the end of the study. In contrast, the percentage of calves seropositive for T. mutans increased from week 6 and reached a maximal level at week 16. Overall 423 (77%) calves seroconverted to T. parva, 451 (82%) to T. mutans, 195 (36%) to B. bigemina and 275 (50%) to A. marginale. Theileria parva antibody levels were sustained following infection, in contrast to those of the other three haemoparasites. Three times as many calves seroconverted to T. mutans before seroconverting to T. parva. No T. parva antibody response was detected in 25 calves that died of T. parva infection, suggesting that most deaths due to T. parva are the result of acute disease from primary exposure.
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