BACKGROUND: Arthropod vectors of disease may encounter more than one infected host during the course of their lifetime. The consequences of super-infection to parasite development are rarely investigated, but may have substantial epidemiological and evolutionary consequences.
METHODS: Using a rodent malaria model system, behavioural avoidance of super-infection was tested by examining whether already-infected Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes were less responsive to new vertebrate hosts if they were infected. Additionally, a second dose of parasites was given to malaria-infected mosquitoes on a biologically realistic time scale to test whether it impeded the development of a first infection.
RESULTS: No effect of a second infected blood meal on either the prevalence or parasite burden arising from a first was found. Furthermore, it was found that not only were infected mosquitoes more likely to take a second blood meal than their uninfected counterparts, they were disproportionately drawn to infected hosts.
CONCLUSIONS: The alterations in mosquito feeding propensity reported here would occur if parasites have been selected to make infected vertebrate hosts more attractive to mosquitoes, and infected mosquitoes are more likely to seek out new blood meals. Although such a strategy might increase the risk of super-infection, this study suggests the cost to parasite development is not high and as such would be unlikely to outweigh the potential benefits of increasing the contact rate between the parasite's two obligate hosts.
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