Prophylactic low-dose, bi-weekly benznidazole treatment fails to prevent Trypanosoma cruzi infection in dogs under intense transmission pressure

Trypanosoma cruzi naturally infects a wide variety of wild and domesticated mammals, in addition to humans. Depending on the infection dose and other factors, the acute infection can be life-threatening, and in all cases, the risk of chagasic heart disease is high in persistently infected hosts. Domestic, working, and semi-feral dogs in the Americas are at significant risk of T. cruzi infection and in certain settings in the southern United States, the risk of new infections can exceed 30% per year, even with the use of vector control protocols. In this study, we explored whether intermittent low-dose treatment with the trypanocidal compound benznidazole (BNZ) during the transmission season, could alter the number of new infections in dogs in an area of known, intense transmission pressure. Preliminary studies in mice suggested that twice-weekly administration of BNZ could prevent or truncate infections when parasites were delivered at the mid-point between BNZ doses. Pre-transmission season screening of 126 dogs identified 53 dogs (42.1%) as T. cruzi infection positive, based upon blood PCR and Luminex-based serology. Serial monitoring of the 67 uninfected dogs during the high transmission season (May to October) revealed 15 (22.4%) new infections, 6 in the untreated control group and 9 in the group receiving BNZ prophylaxis, indicating no impact of this prophylaxis regimen on the incidence of new infections. Although these studies suggest that rigorously timed and more potent dosing regimen may be needed to achieve an immediate benefit of prophylaxis, additional studies would be needed to determine if drug prophylaxis reduced disease severity despite this failure to prevent new infections.

Juan M Bustamante, Angel M Padilla, Brooke White, Lisa D Auckland, Rachel E Busselman, Stephanie Collins, Elizabeth L Malcolm, Briana F Wilson, Ashley B Saunders, Sarah A Hamer, Rick L Tarleton. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2022 Oct 31;16(10):e0010688. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0010688.