The geographical distribution and habitats of three liver fluke intermediate hosts in South - Africa and the health implications involved

  • K. N. de Kock Skool vir Omgewingswetenskappe en -ontwikkeling, Vakgroep Dierkunde, Noordwes-Universiteit, Privaat sak X6001, Potchefstroom 2520
  • C. T. Wolmarans Skool vir Omgewingswetenskappe en -ontwikkeling, Vakgroep Dierkunde, Noordwes-Universiteit, Privaat sak X6001, Potchefstroom 2520
Keywords: Varswaterslakke, Lymnaea natalensis, L. columella, L. truncatula, fasciolose, geografiese verspreiding, Suid-Afrika


Account is given of the distribution and habitats of the three Lymnaea species currently on recordin the National Freshwater Snail Collection (NFSC) of South Africa. A total number of 616, 353and 202 loci (1/16th square degrees) was respectively recorded for Lymnaea natalensis, L. columellaand L. truncatula. The number of loci in which the collection sites of each species was located, wasdistributed in intervals of mean annual air temperature and rainfall, as well as intervals of meanaltitude. A temperature index was calculated for all mollusc species in the database and the resultsused to rank them in order of their association with low to high climatic temperatures. Chi-squareand effect size values were calculated to determine the significance in differences between frequencies of occurrence of each species in, on, or at the different options for each of the variables investigated and also to determine the significance of the differences between the three species. None of the three Lymnaea species were well represented in the arid regions of the Northern ,Western and Eastern Cape Province, and only L. truncatula was reported from Lesotho. Lymnaeanatalensis is the most widespread of the three species, while the distribution of L. truncatula displaysa sporadic and limited pattern. The alien invader species L. columella was first reported from SouthAfrica in the early 1940’s but was so successful in its invasion of water-bodies in South Africa thatit is currently considered the third most widespread freshwater snail in the country. Lymnaea truncatula was the only one of the three species not recovered from all 14 water-body types represented in the database. The largest number of samples of L. truncatula by far, was yielded by marshes while the largest number of samples of the other two species was collected in rivers, streams and dams. The highest percentage occurrence of all three species was in habitats in which the water conditions were described as permanent, standing, fresh and clear. Although the highest percentage of samples of all three species was reported from loci that fell within the interval ranging from 16-20°C, a significant number of samples of L. truncatula came from loci falling with in the 11-15°C interval. In view of the fact that Lymnaea species are well known as intermediate hosts for liver fluke in South Africa and elsewhere in the world, the widespread occurrence of these snails could have considerable health and economic consequences. Lymnaea natalenis is the most important and probably the only intermediate host of Fasciola gigantica, the most common liver fluke in Africa but F. gigantica has been reliably reported only from Lesotho where its traditional intermediate host, L. truncatula is widespread. However, the epidemiology of fasciolosis in South Africa has been complicated by the invasion of many water-bodies by L. columella because this species has proved to be a successful host for F. hepatica where it had been introduced elsewhere in the world. To our knowledge its role in South Africa in this respect has not yet been evaluated. Due to the fact that no statistics are available in print, the results of positive serological tests on cattle herds all over South Africa were used to compile a map depicting the possible occurrence of Fasciola species in livestock in this country. Although human infections with Fasciola in Africa was considered as very rare in 1975 the situation has changed. It is considered an underrated and underreported disease in humans in Ethiopia and in Egypt an increase in cases of fasciolosis and prevalence’s as high as 12.8% in humans have also recently been reported. To our knowledge the only cases of human fasciolosis reported in literature for South Africa were from northern KwaZulu-Natal where F. hepatica infections were found in 22 out of 7 569 school children examined in 1981. Efforts to obtain recent statisticson human infections from various persons and authorities were totally unsuccessful. In view of statistics available for elsewhere in the world, it would be unwise to assume that no problems exist in this regard in South Africa. The number of people suffering from fasciolosis was already estimated at 2.4 million in 61 countries in 1995 and another 180 million at risk of becoming infected, with the highest prevalence’s reported from Bolivia, China, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Iran, Peru and Portugal. The results of recent serological assays for the detection of fasciolosis in cattle herds in selected areas in South Africa indicated positive cases from localities that closely correspond to the geographical distribution of the three Lymnaea species in this country. According to reports in the literature, the high prevalence of fasciolosis in livestock in the highlands of Ethiopia couldhave serious health implications for people in the area because they have to use the same water resources. In many rural areas in South Africa local populations also have no other options than to share natural water resources with their livestock. In most instances these water bodies harbour at least one of the Lymnaea species which can maintain the life cycle of fasciola. Under such conditions residents could daily be exposed to the risk of becoming infected. It is a matter of concern that epidemiological research with regard to human fasciolosis is such aneglected subject in South Africa. In our opinion epidemiological surveys should be conducted to determine the prevalence of human fasciolosis in specific areas which could be selected on the basis of using the geographical distribution of the three Linnaean species as guidelines. Efforts should also be made to conduct surveys to update the geographical distribution of the snail intermediate hosts and awareness programmes should be launched in rural areas at risk.

Original Research