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New Flesh-Eating Parasite Species Discovered In Australia

Update Date: Jan 25, 2017 09:50 AM EST

A team of researchers has found a new species of parasites in Australia. These new species share an evolutionary ancestor to a dreaded group of "flesh-eating" parasites.

Published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the researchers at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) describe for the first time an Australian parasite, called Zelonia australiensis, in native biting insects. This insect share an evolutionary ancestor with the Leishmania group of "flesh-eating" parasites.

Previous studies on the evolution of Leishmania have shown that this parasite is adaptable and can spread over vast distances. The disease it causes, Leishmaniasis, is potentially deadly and affects both animals and humans through bites of sand flies.

On the other hand, the newly-discovered parasite is found in a species of black fly that bites mammals and humans as well.

Establishment Of Exotic Pathogens In Australia

According to the researchers, although the species probably does not eat flesh, the findings of the study shows the importance of scientists being aware of similar tropical diseases in the country. Moreover, the study raises questions about the potential for the establishment of exotic pathogens in Australia.

"In conjunction with previous research, this study provides clues as to what these parasites are capable of. They have invaded new lands in the past, adapting to infect new species," Dr. Joel Barratt, lead author of the study, said in a press release.

He added that learning more about these parasites, their origin and how they infect species to take up residence in places, could help curb outbreaks in the future. This has happened for other parasites in the past just like the spread of malaria from Africa to Europe and the Americas

Neglected Parasitic Diseases

The study authors call for the government and local health authorities to pay more attention to neglected parasitic diseases.

Australia, in general, is not very well equipped to deal with various tropical diseases like Zika virus, Japanese encephalitis, dengue fever, Chikungunya, MERS, Ebola, and SARS, the researchers said as reported by Science Alert.

They proposed the creation of the Australian version of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Leishmaniasis, a deadly disease caused by protozoan parasites, is a potentially deadly disease transmitted to humans by the bites of the infected female phlebotomine sandfly, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports.

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