Researchers said Tuesday that they have discovered a new strain of a deadly water-borne disease in the Peruvian Amazon.
This emerging bacteria may be responsible for up to 40 percent of the region's cases of leptospirosis, a deadly disease transmitted from animals to humans which can cause jaundice, renal failure, lung hemorrhage and other symptoms.
Leptospirosis affects tens of millions of people every year but is most prevalent in tropical regions.
It is difficult to diagnose due to a wide range of symptoms, and fatality rates can range as high as 20 to 25 percent in some regions.
"This strain has fundamentally different characteristics," said study author Joseph Vinetz of the University of California San Diego's Division of Infectious Diseases.
"We think that hundreds of patients are infected with this pathogen, which is so unique that antibodies for the disease don't react to the regular tests for leptospirosis."
Vinetz and his colleagues discovered the strain while doing a clinical study of patients in the Iquitos region of Peru who sought medical treatment for fever.
They found that 41 percent of 881 patients tested had antibodies that reacted only to this new strain of the bacteria, showing a much higher incidence of leptospirosis than previously suspected.
"This observation is relevant to other regions of the world where leptospirosis is likely to be common, because it's necessary to identify the right strain of the Leptospira in order to make the correct diagnosis," Vinetz said.
The findings were published in the journal Neglected Tropical Diseases of the Public Library of Science