News of the WeekInfectious Disease

New Culprit Emerges in River Blindness

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Science  08 Mar 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5561, pp. 1809-1811
DOI: 10.1126/science.295.5561.1809

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For decades, people have blamed a parasitic nematode for a disease that has blinded at least 250,000 people now living in Africa and South America. But the real culprit--or at least an accomplice--may be the ubiquitous Wolbachia, bacteria that colonize many hundreds of species, including the nematode indicted in river blindness. On page 1892, researchers report that Wolbachia stimulate the severe immune system response that slowly robs people of their vision in areas where the disease is endemic.