BACKGROUND: Snails are essential for the transmission and maintenance of schistosomiasis in endemic areas, as they serve as intermediate hosts for schistosome parasites. A clear understanding of the snail species present, their local distribution and infection status is therefore a prerequisite for effective control of schistosomiasis. The purpose of this study was to establish the infection status and distribution of Schistosoma mansoni in snails in the Gombe area along the shores of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania, using both detection of cercarial shedding and molecular approaches.
METHODS: Snails were collected from streams located close to human settlements in Gombe National Park, as well as from nearby villages (Kiziba, Mtanga, Mwamgongo and Bugamba) and the largest town in the region (Kigoma). Snails were individually exposed to light to induce shedding of schistosome larvae, which were examined using a compound light microscope. Additionally, the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of the ribosomal RNA gene cluster was simultaneously amplified in both snails and their trematodes using a single polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequenced to confirm species identification.
RESULTS: Snails morphologically identified as Biomphalaria pfeifferi were present in all streams except at Mtanga but their distribution was patchy in both time and space. Sequencing of PCR products indicated that not all snails were B. pfeifferi. None of the snails from Gombe or Bugamba shed schistosome larvae, while larvae were shed at all other sites. Overall, an infection prevalence of only 12% was observed in snails based on cercarial shedding. While 47% of the snails were PCR-positive for the 500 bp ITS fragment, which was predicted to indicate infection with S. mansoni, sequence data demonstrated that these bands are not species-specific and can be amplified from other trematode infections. In addition, a 1000 bp band was amplified in 14% of samples, which was identified as a trematode in the family Derogenidae.
CONCLUSIONS: The results support the previous assumption that B. pfeifferi snails may be involved in transmitting schistosomiasis in the area but suggest that the community structure of both snails and trematodes may be more complicated than previously thought. This emphasises the importance of confirming species identifications using sequencing, rather than relying only on PCR-based diagnostics or cercarial shedding.