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Decoded: DNA of blood-sucking worm that infects world's poor
Date:1/19/2014

Going barefoot in parts of Africa, Asia and South America contributes to hookworm infections, which afflict an estimated 700 million of the world's poor. The parasitic worm lives in the soil and enters the body through the feet. By feeding on victims' blood, the worms cause anemia and, in children, stunted growth and learning problems.

Now, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have decoded the genome of the hookworm, Necator americanus, finding clues to how it infects and survives in humans and to aid in development of new therapies to combat hookworm disease.

The research is published Jan. 19 in Nature Genetics.

"We now have a more complete picture of just how this worm invades the body, begins feeding on the blood and successfully evades the host immune defenses," said senior author Makedonka Mitreva, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and of genetics and a member of The Genome Institute at the School of Medicine. "This information will accelerate development of new diagnostic tools and vaccines against the infection."

Necator americanus causes about 85 percent of human hookworm infections, which are not usually fatal. However, in pregnant women, the worm can cause severe anemia, leading to maternal deaths and low birth weights that contribute to newborn deaths.

The deworming drug albendazole typically is given as part of mass treatment programs in areas with endemic infection, but its repeated and excessive use is leading to treatment failures and drug resistance in some regions, Mitreva said.

Hookworms are common in areas of extreme poverty that lack indoor plumbing. The worm's eggs are excreted in the feces of infected individuals, contaminating the soil. After the eggs hatch, the immature worms, called larvae, molt twice and enter the body through the feet. The worms travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, where they are coughed up and
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Contact: Caroline Arbanas
arbanasc@wustl.edu
314-286-0109
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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