Photo credit: Johns Hopkins University
We'd have used a picture of flesh-eating bacteria dilligently at work, but all our options made us want to disgorge the contents of our stomachs, so here's a nonthreatening—dare we say even cuddly?—microscopic look at the insidious beasties themselves. In reassuring monochrome. (This was a close second.)
Now that our breakfasts are properly secured, we can tell you that scientists at the University of Hull and Kent in the U.K. warn of a dramatic uptick in the numbers of people suffering Leishmaniasis, a flesh-eating and sometimes fatal disease, should global warming continue its current course.
This festive disease is caused by a parasite transmitted through the bites of sand flies, found typically only in tropical climes. As temperatures increase, however, so will the number of countries the sand fly will find inhabitable, as it moves further north and through Europe, say university scientists. To combat the disease, the universities are pioneering the use of photodynamic therapy, traditionally used to treat cancers. The only other major program testing the efficacy of the therapy to fight Leishmaniasis is at Harvard Medical School in the United States.
Because of travel and tourism, nations already affected by the disease are on the rise. Military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are exposed to conditions ripe for developing Leishmaniasis.
Global warming and the military presence in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan mean that this horrific and debilitating disease is affecting more people than ever before," says Dr. Ross Boyle, lead researcher on the project at the University of Hull. "My co-investigator, Dr. Tim Paget at the Medway School of Pharmacy, Hull PhD student Carrie-Anne Bristow and myself wanted to work towards finding a significantly better treatment."
Leishmaniasis currently affects 12 million people around the world, with 350 million people at risk of infection and a further 2 million new cases popping up each year.
It manifests itself in one of three ways: The less-severe cutaneous type results in large, unpleasant sores, while the mucoutaneous variety attacks the mucous membranes and eats away at parts of the body such as the lips and nose. The visceral form is the worst; it attacks the body systemically and leads to death within as little as a few months.
Although current treatments are available (with nasty side effects, to boot), the need for alternative methods is vital because of increasing drug resistance by the parasite, say researchers.