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Research Shows Genetic Factors Increase Risk Of Visceral Leishmaniasis

A new study published in Nature Genetics last week shows that genetics likely influence whether an individual develops visceral leishmaniasis, a lethal form of the parasitic disease transmitted by sandflies, the New York Times reports. In 80 percent of cases, leishmaniasis causes painful skin boils, but in 20 percent of cases, the disease — also called kala azar — spreads to the organs and is fatal if untreated, the newspaper notes. Researchers “compared DNA in almost 6,000 blood samples from India and Brazil,” and they found “[b]oth Indians and Brazilians who got visceral leishmaniasis had similar DNA variations,” the New York Times writes (McNeil, 1/14). A University of Western Australia press release says the discovery brings researchers “a step closer to developing a vaccine.” The press release notes, “Leishmaniasis affects 12 million people and there are an estimated 1.5 million new cases annually mainly in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Brazil” (1/8).