Viral infection makes leishmaniasis worse

An international scientific collaboration has made important discoveries which could lead to new treatments for leishmaniasis, which affects around 12 million people worldwide.

The disease, caused by the parasite Leishmania, is spread by sand fly bites.

Scientists from Switzerland and the US have found that some parasites become infected with a virus, causing a more severe form of the disease.

People in Central and South America who become infected may develop a disfiguring erosion of the soft tissues around the nose and mouth.

“This is the first reported case of a viral infection in a pathogen of this type leading to increased rather than reduced pathogenicity,” researcher Dr Stephen Beverley (PhD) said.

Viral infection may improve the parasite’s chances of infecting immune cells in animals and humans, but targeting them rather than the parasite itself may offer opportunities for intervention.