Tropical Parasite Develops US-Native Strain, Forcing Scientists To Issue Health Warnings

(Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP) (Photo by DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Kay Smythe News and Commentary Writer
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A tropical parasite that causes an extremely uncomfortable disease is making its new home in America, according to presentations delivered Thursday at a medical conference.

Two presentations at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene detailed how a genetically distinct strain of the Leishmania parasite has been found in the United States, suggesting that this strain developed domestically, according to LiveScience. Cases of the parasite have been identified in the U.S., but it’s largely believed the illness was caught while residents were on vacations in tropical parts of the world.

The disease spreads to humans through bites from female sand flies, and can be caught via blood transfusions in some rare cases. Symptoms include skin sores and ulcers that can turn into disfiguring scars if left untreated, though some people suffer no symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scientists genetically sequenced more than 2,000 tissue samples from patients suspected of carrying the parasite and found more than 80 locally caught cases within the U.S. A majority were identified in Texas. “These findings offer evidence that leishmaniasis may be endemic in the United States,” researchers stated. (RELATED: Major Bird Flu Outbreak Hits Minnesota)

There are now concerns that far deadlier form of the disease may soon spread domestically as well. Visceral leishmania causes fever, weight loss and spleen and liver enlargement, and is fatal in more than 95 percent of untreated cases.