Parasitic worm increases susceptibility to TB infections

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently conducted a study that demonstrates how an infection from a parasitic worm can make people more susceptible to contracting tuberculosis (TB) infections.

This worm infection is commonly found throughout developing countries, which explains some of the increased susceptibility people have to TB when they live in poorer countries.

"Scientists and doctors have known that having both infections -- this parasitic worm and tuberculosis -- results in increased susceptibility to severe lung disease than having TB alone," Shabaana Khader, associate professor of molecular microbiology, said. "But if we don't understand why co-infection increases the susceptibility to TB, it is difficult to know how to deal with the situation."

The scientists used mice infected with the parasites to determine whether treating the infection from the worms could decrease the amount of lung damage from TB infections. The results showed that treating the parasites does reduce the lung damage.

"We showed that the parasite activates a type of immune cell that drives inflammation rather than inhibiting the immune response that protects against active TB," Khader said. "If you treat the parasite alone in these mice that also have TB, you go back to having the good immunity against TB."

Researchers can now develop and easily distribute inexpensive, anti-parasitic drugs for developing nations. These drugs can be used as part of preventive measures in regions that commonly have infections of TB and the parasite.

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Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

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