There is considerable variation in the level of fecal egg excretion during Schistosoma mansoni
infections. Within a single endemic area, the distribution of egg counts is typically overdispersed, with the majority of eggs excreted coming from a minority of residents. The purpose of this study was to quantify the influence of genetic factors on patterns of fecal egg excretion in a rural study sample in Brazil. Individual fecal egg excretions, expressed in eggs per gram of feces, were determined by the Kato-Katz method on stool samples collected on three different days. Detailed genealogic information was gathered at the time of sampling, which allowed assignment of 461 individuals to 14 pedigrees containing between 3 and 422 individuals. Using a maximum likelihood variance decomposition approach, we performed quantitative genetic analyses to determine if genetic factors could partially account for the observed pattern of fecal egg excretion. The quantitative genetic analysis indicated that between 21-37% of the variation in S. mansoni egg counts was attributable to additive genetic factors and that shared environment, as assessed by common household, accounted for a further 12-21% of the observed variation. A maximum likelihood heritability (h2
) estimate of 0.44 ± 0.14 (mean ± SE) was found for the 9,604 second- and higher-degree pairwise relationships in the study sample, which is consistent with the upper limit (37%) of the genetic factor determined in the variance decomposition analysis. These analyses point to the significant influence of additive host genes on the pattern of S. mansoni fecal egg excretion in this endemic area.