We present a simple unscaled, quantitative framework that addresses the optimum use of resources throughout a host's lifetime based on continuous exposure to parasites (rather than evolutionary, genetically explicit trade-offs). The principal assumptions are that a host's investment of resources in growth increases its survival and reproduction, and that increasing parasite burden reduces survival. The host reproductive value is maximised for a given combination of rates of parasite exposure, host resource acquisition and pathogenicity, which results in an optimum parasite burden (for the host). Generally, results indicate that the optimum resource allocation is to tolerate some parasite infection. The lower the resource acquisition, the lower the proportion of resources that should be devoted to immunity, i.e. the higher the optimum parasite burden. Increases in pathogenicity result in reduced optimum parasite burdens, whereas increases in exposure result in increasing optimum parasite burdens. Simultaneous variation in resource acquisition, pathogenicity and exposure within a community of hosts results in overdispersed parasite burdens, with the degree of heterogeneity decreasing as mean burden increases. The relationships between host condition and parasite burden are complicated, and could potentially confound data analysis. Finally, the value of this approach for explaining epidemiological patterns, immunological processes and the possibilities for further work are discussed
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