Rutgers-Newark scientist: Mosquitoes may carry lethal parasite

(NEWARK) Brush, then squash. Remember those three words and that technique the next time you catch a mosquito dining on your arm or leg, and you'll go a long way to protecting yourself from a potentially lethal parasitic micro-organism that may be in the mosquito, and is especially dangerous to those with weakened immune systems.

A study by Rutgers-Newark biology professor Ann Cali and others published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July indicates that microsporidia, a group of opportunistic single-celled micro-organisms that can invade and devour virtually any kind of human cell, may have entered and broken down the muscle tissue of a Pennsylvania woman when she crushed a mosquito over the site where it had been drawing blood. The woman later died as a type of microsporidia called B. algerae, known to reside in the tissues of mosquitoes, systematically consumed muscle fibers in her body, leaving the muscles unable to contract and respond to mental commands.

Cali, who serves as a consultant for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Hospital, theorizes that the B. algerae in the mosquito may have been ground into the wound left by the insect's hypodermic-like feeding tube. Mosquitoes secrete an anti-coagulant to keep blood from clotting as they drink, temporarily leaving a clear passage directly into the bloodstream.

New research by Cali and one of her graduate students will be aimed at identifying how prevalent B. algerae is in mosquitoes in New Jersey through the collection and examination of specimens across the state.

"Microsporidia kill people because they stay below the radar," Cali observed.

Studies spearheaded by Cali have identified many of the dozen kinds of microsporidia now known to infect humans. About 1,500 species of microsporidia have been found infecting a wide variety of life forms. Their spores a dormant stage in the creatures' li

Contact: Michael Sutton
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

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