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A Breakthrough on Lice

Discovery about bloodsuckers' genes may help combat the diseases they carry

FRIDAY, Nov. 7, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The genes in lice that control the breakdown of their human blood meal into energy and waste have been identified by Purdue and Harvard researchers.

They also pinpointed the first lice gene that may impact the little bloodsuckers' ability to fight bacterial infections.

These findings, which appear in the November issue of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, may help efforts to develop new ways to control lice, which can transmit fatal diseases.

"This research eventually may lead to long-term human health benefits for people throughout the world," senior author Barry Pittendrigh, an assistant professor of entomology at Purdue, says in a prepared statement.

"We need to develop novel strategies for controlling these pests. Body lice raise significant health concerns in developing countries, and head lice afflict children in North America and elsewhere," Pittendrigh says.

Body lice are rarely found in the United States and other western nations. But body lice are a major problem in refugee camps, areas of natural disasters, war zones and other locations where there are crowds of people and poor sanitary conditions.

These areas are where outbreaks of lice-borne diseases such as trench fever, relapsing fever and typhus are most likely to occur.

"Current methods of controlling lice are fine, but understanding the molecular biology of lice may lead to novel pest control strategies that may be more cost-effective and cause fewer concerns. Ten or 15 years from now it would be wonderful if a vaccine is developed to control head lice, resulting in no more head lice problems at school," Pittendrigh says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about body lice.

SOURCE: Purdue University, news release, November 2003
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