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Leishmania’s viruses may have helped the parasite infect vertebrates, according to new research.
More than a million people in tropical countries contract the parasite Leishmania every year through the bites of infected sand flies. Most people develop disfiguring—but not life-threatening—skin lesions at the sites of the bites. But if the parasite spreads to the internal organs, it causes a disease known as visceral leishmaniasis, which kills about 30,000 people every year.
Leishmania parasites infected with a virus—dubbed Leishmaniavirus—cause significantly worse disease than those without a virus, according to the research of Stephen Beverley, professor and head of the molecular microbiology department at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and colleagues.