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Antioxidants Could Halt Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Summertime is for hiking and camping, but it brings with it the risk of tick bites and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In order to prevent such illnesses, researchers //are looking at the role played by antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid and green tea and vitamins C and E in preventing infection by rickettsia bacteria.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded the University of Rochester Medical Center $2 million for a five-year study of the antioxidant theory. The grant caps more than a decade of rickettsia research led by Sanjeev Sahni, Ph.D.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most frequently reported illness in the United States caused by the rickettsia bacteria, which is transmitted by tick parasites. It usually afflicts otherwise healthy adults and children who are bitten by wood ticks or dog ticks. The illness can become life threatening if left untreated, and spotted fever can be difficult for physicians to diagnose because the earliest signs mimic less-serious viral illnesses. Limiting exposure to ticks is the best way to prevent the disease. If it does develop, in most cases doctors can treat it with antibiotics. Typhus is another rickettsial disease spread by lice or fleas. Although less common, typhus remains a threat in crowded jails and in other poor hygienic environments.

"Our studies have the potential to identify novel therapeutic targets for a host of rickettsial diseases," said Sahni, an assistant professor in Hematology/Oncology at the University of Rochester.

Dr. Howard Taylor Ricketts, who eventually died of typhus, identified rickettsia in the late 1800s. Sahni's research group first began investigating the rickettsia bacteria as a model to study the biological changes that occur in the lining of the blood vessels (endothelium) as the bacteria travels through the blood stream. Initially they were looking at what types of cellular c
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