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sub-Saharan Africa hit with New Drug-Resistant Pathogen

Update Date: Sep 30, 2012 07:32 PM EDT
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A new sub-Saharan based pathogen, what researchers are calling invasive non-Typhodial Salmonella (iNTS), has emerged and spread rapidly with a current mortality rate of 45 percent and rising, killing one in four people who have contracted it.

While experts believe that the disease may have been potentiated by the HIV epidemic, they have confirmed that it is a sub-form of the bacteria Salmonella Typherium; iNTS is an intestinal disease and blood-borne infection (meaning that it can be spread from person to person via sexual and sanguine fluids).

A study released by The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute reveals that in the rest of the world NTS is fatal in less than one percent of victims and is the leading cause of acute inflammatory diarrhea which eventually passes; However, the  people in sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing a growing genetic resistance to the drugs used to treat the disease.

"The immune system susceptibility provided by HIV, malaria and malnutrition at a young age, may provide a population in sub-Saharan Africa that is large enough for this detrimental pathogen to enter, adapt, circulate and thrive," says Chinyere Okoro, joint first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "We used whole genome sequencing to define a novel lineage of Salmonella Typhimurium that is causing a previously unrecognized epidemic across the region. Its genetic makeup is evolving into a more typhoid like bacteria, able to efficiently spread around the human body"

Researchers identified previous epidemics involving iNTS that spread from two different focal hubs in Southern and Central Africa beginning 52 and 35 years ago, respectively. Studies of the first and second epidemics together have revealed that the first wave of iNTS bacterium modified itself genetically to survive the medicines created to combat it. Also the HIV epidemic that occurred soon after weakened the autoimmune systems of persons infected, creating a generation of people with weak immune systems and a disease with a stronger resistance to the drugs.

Chinyere Okoro notes, "This is the first time that the power of whole-genome sequencing has been used to track the spread of iNTS. Our research highlights the power this approach has to monitor the emergence and spread of dangerous pathogens both locally and globally over time." 

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