USU professor fighting a parasitic killer

The second most prevalent parasitic killer in the world is Visceral Leishmaniasis; it is responsible for 30,000 deaths annually and is transmitted by sand flies.

Utah State University Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Bernhardt is part of an international team working in northeast India to eliminate the disease.

Techniques being used in administering insecticide against the sand flies were developed at Utah State.

“That’s what’s exciting about this,” Dr. Bernhardt explains. “There’s a couple of approaches on how to address the disease. One is treatment and another is to take it from the approach of trying to reduce the vector, or reduce the sand fly.

“If people aren’t being bit by sand flies, if they’re not present, it’s kind of similar to what we do here in Cache Valley where we go out and spray for mosquitoes. We have the same approach that we take in areas where these sand flies exist.”

At the start of the project the goal was disease elimination by 2015.

“We’ve been able to see significant reduction of the disease but that had to be extended out even several more years. There is a realistic goal of reaching elimination in that part of the world because of the real focused efforts that are occurring with this international research team.

“But, elimination worldwide, it’s probably not likely in the near future.”

He said he will return to India several times over the next five years.

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