Imidacloprid pollution in freshwater paves the way for schistosomiasis transmission

Schistosomiasis is a severe neglected tropical disease caused by trematodes and transmitted by freshwater snails. Snails are known to be highly tolerant to agricultural pesticides. However, little attention has been paid to the ecological consequences of pesticide pollution in areas endemic for schistosomiasis, where people live in close contact with non-sanitized freshwaters.

In complementary laboratory and field studies on Kenyan inland areas along Lake Victoria, we show that pesticide pollution is a major driver in increasing the occurrence of host snails and thus the risk of schistosomiasis transmission. In the laboratory, snails showed higher insecticide tolerance to commonly found pesticides than associated invertebrates, in particular to the neonicotinoid Imidacloprid and the organophosphate Diazinon. In the field, we demonstrated at 48 sites that snails were present exclusively in habitats characterized by pesticide pollution and eutrophication. Our analysis revealed that insensitive snails dominated over their less tolerant competitors.

The study shows for the first time that in the field, pesticide concentrations considered “safe” in environmental risk assessment have indirect effects on human health. Thus we conclude there is a need for rethinking the environmental risk of low pesticide concentrations and of integrating agricultural mitigation measures in the control of schistosomiasis.

Becker, J.M., Ganatra, A.A., Kandie, F. et al. Sci Rep 10, 3650 (2020).