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  • Warning- this episode contains graphic images of a flesh eating disease.

  • Don't watch if you've recently had lunch...

  • Laura Gaither and her family are enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Panama City Beach,

  • Florida.

  • The weather is perfect, the water is warm.

  • There's only one problem- the family is being attacked by flesh eating parasites and don't

  • even know it.

  • It started as a slight irritation.

  • Glancing down, Laura spotted small black insects on her legs, which she quickly swept away.

  • She thought nothing more of it until the next morning, when she woke up to numerous small

  • red bumps all along her legs.

  • Her five children also had the same small bumps, and after asking locals they calmed

  • her worries, letting her know they'd likely just been bitten by common sand fleas.

  • Every beach goer in the United States has occasionally had to deal with the mildly irritating

  • bite of a sand flea, so Laura figured it was no big deal.

  • She couldn't possibly imagine how wrong she was.

  • The bites grew red and hardened, akin to a mosquito bite.

  • They burned and itched, and when they refused to heal, Laura began to really worry.

  • A month later the bites were still present, and were now drying out and splitting open,

  • resulting in slight bleeding and scabbing.

  • Taking her children to the pediatrician, he reassured Laura that it was nothing more than

  • eczema.

  • However, over the next few days, the bites- now becoming open sores- worsened to the point

  • that she had to rush her youngest daughter to the emergency room.

  • The doctors were perplexed with the bites and tested her child for fungal and bacterial

  • infections.

  • With the labs coming back negative, the family was prescribed antifungal and steroid topical

  • creams.

  • These would not help however, and gradually the wounds grew larger and larger, becoming

  • ever more painful.

  • With the doctors baffled as to the cause, Laura took matters into her own hands and

  • began to research her symptoms online.

  • To her amazement, she discovered that her scabby, pus-filled ulcers closely resembled

  • a condition commonly reported in the tropical regions of the world.

  • Leishmaniasis commonly affects people living in warm tropical climates.

  • The disease first infects smaller mammals such as rodents, who are then fed on by sand

  • flies who transmit the disease to a human with their bite.

  • The female sandfly requires blood to produce eggs, and as she greedily sips upon a human

  • host she drops off her microscopic parasite passenger directly into the bloodstream.

  • Typically the disease affects those living in tropical climates, and is often rampant

  • amongst the poor or those without access to good medical care or who have a weak immune

  • system.

  • Three main forms of the disease exist.

  • Visceral leishmaniasis is almost certainly fatal if left untreated, with a 95% mortality

  • rate.

  • Symptoms include random bouts of fever, weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver,

  • and anaemia.

  • Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common form of the disease and causes skin lesions,

  • which can lead to permanent scarring.

  • Luckily for Laura Gaither this is the variant that her and her children were exposed to,

  • or surely her and her children would've run the risk of death.

  • (ANIMATORS USE PHOTO: https://www.ajtmh.org/view/journals/tpmd/75/6/full-1074fig1.jpg)

  • Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis is the much more rare variant of the disease.

  • This variant aggressively attacks and devours the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, and

  • throat, with devastating consequences for the sufferer.

  • Don't' stress out too much because most of these cases occur in Bolivia, Brazil, Ethiopia,

  • and Peru.

  • Laura Gaither returned to her doctor and explained her discovery, but both her children's pediatrician

  • and the doctors at the emergency room refused to believe that she and her family had contracted

  • leishmaniasis.

  • With no recent travel abroad to a tropical country, there simply was no way that they

  • could've come in contact with this dangerous disease- which was almost unheard of in the

  • US at the time.

  • Ignored by her doctors, prescribed treatments failed to stop her growing ulcers.

  • The parasites inside of her were devouring her flesh as her immune system desperately

  • tried to stop the onslaught.

  • As Laura's knee worsened, she pressured her doctor to test for leishmaniasis, but the

  • biopsy came back inconclusive, further frustrating Laura's efforts to find treatment.

  • Lucky for her, after three months of suffering the wounds began to heal on their own as her

  • and her children's immune systems turned the tide on the parasitic invader.

  • Ultimately, Laura would have no answer for what truly caused her horrifying flesh-eating

  • episode- but new research shows that not only did Laura likely have leishmaniasis, but that

  • she may have been the warning bell for a coming onslaught soon to overtake America.

  • A tropical disease, unheard of north of Mexico, cases of leishmaniasis have now been confirmed

  • in Texas and Oklahoma.

  • This flesh eating invader has officially made landfall in the United States, and scientists

  • estimate it will eventually push as far north as Canada.

  • But why?

  • The answer is, as it usually is these days: global warming.

  • As global temperatures soar, the habitable zone of leishmaniasis and its hosts continues

  • to expand ever northward.

  • Once limited to the tropical belt around the world, leishmaniasis now creeps ever northward,

  • entering territory once completely off-limits.

  • What's even more terrifying for doctors is that unlike populations where leishmaniasis

  • is native, Americans have almost no natural immunity or resistance to the disease.

  • We are all highly vulnerable, and a single bite from an infected sand fly could mean

  • death.

  • Luckily for us in North America however, the variant of the disease pushing north is known

  • as Leishmania mexicana.

  • This variant mostly results in skin lesions and ulcers, which can heal on their own over

  • time.

  • Those infected however often suffer from very bad scarring that will last for a lifetime.

  • Still being reported in only small numbers, scientists were aware of the disease's spread

  • back in 2010, when they undertook a massive study to try and track the disease.

  • The field researchers trapped rodents and sand flies across Texas and northern Mexico,

  • comparing the location of high concentrations of leishmaniasis infected animals and insects

  • with local environmental conditions.

  • This allowed them to develop a very clear picture of the specific environment that the

  • parasite needed to thrive in, which in turn helped them use global warming data to predict

  • how the disease would spread.

  • Thanks to the warming planet, by 2020 the disease was expected to extend all the way

  • to Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri.

  • This estimate proved very accurate, with Oklahoma having confirmed cases of leishmaniasis today.

  • By 2080 however, leishmaniasis will have reached all the way to southern Canada, exposing tens

  • of millions with no natural immunities or resistances.

  • But while the US is facing the milder form of leishmaniasis which can result in some

  • light to moderate scarring, the more deadly and aggressive forms of the parasite are also

  • on the move north.

  • Leishmania braziliensis, an even more aggressive form of the parasite which attacks flesh at

  • an even greater rate, can leave massive scars and even be life-threatening.

  • Historically limited to the warmest areas of Brazil, scientists were horrified to discover

  • that it had recently moved into Mexico.

  • As global warming accelerates, it's only a matter of time until it finds its way home

  • to the US.

  • And hot on its heels may be even more dangerous forms of the disease, such as the variant

  • that attacks the mucous membranes of the throat and nose, which can leave people disfigured

  • for life if they survive.

  • Inexperience with the disease by American doctors is leading to further complications

  • with those Americans who have contracted leishmaniasis.

  • Sometimes the doctors can even help the disease wreak havoc without meaning to.

  • As today most doctors still refuse to believe leishmaniasis can be contracted here at home

  • in the US, treatments of the scabbing, bleeding ulcers the parasite causes can not only be

  • completely useless, but sometimes can even accelerate the spread of the parasite.

  • Antibiotics are commonly prescribed, which actually inhibits the body's immune system

  • and leaves it too weak to fight off the parasite.

  • There's possible good news on the horizon though.

  • A vaccine will soon be undergoing clinical trials, but given America's response to the

  • Covid vaccine, nobody here at the infographics show is confident anyone will bother to get

  • vaccinated even against a flesh-eating parasite.

  • Liquid nitrogen is also shown to be effective at stopping the parasite in its tracks, as

  • affected flesh is flash-frozen and enough of the parasite is destroyed to allow the

  • immune system to mop up the rest.

  • An ancient Mayan treatment however is now being investigated for refinement and use

  • as a medicine.

  • Dealing with the disease for hundreds of years, the Mayans had learned to form a paste out

  • of a local plant, which they would then apply to the affected sores and leave on for up

  • to two weeks.

  • This plant has been shown to have anti-parasite properties and could lead to a major breakthrough

  • treatment for leishmaniasis- just in time for it to invade the United States in force.

  • However, right now Canadians and Americans are finding themselves in a race against time

  • versus this parasitic invader.

  • Not only is global warming rapidly accelerating the spread of leishmaniasis, but human activity

  • is only making the problem worse.

  • As humans impact more of the habitat where species that carry leishmaniasis live, those

  • animals are then forced to migrate and find new homes.

  • Tearing down forest and jungles, filling in swamps, and paving over coastal flatlands

  • is displacing all of the species leishmaniasis typically infects, and those species are in

  • turn heading closer and closer to human population areas.

  • With no other place to live, infected rodents and other small mammals are moving into our

  • cities, and bringing their flesh-eating parasites with them.

  • So can leishmaniasis be stopped?

  • Probably not, because humanity has a snowball's chance in hell of doing anything remotely

  • significant about global warming or habitat destruction.

  • As the world continues to warm, and we push ever deeper into the wild places, diseases,

  • parasites, and other microscopic horrors once limited to the deepest, darkest jungles and

  • swamps are becoming endemic thousands of miles away from their native territories.

  • And with no natural resistances or immunities, populations in the US and Canada are frighteningly

  • vulnerable to what might end up becoming the next great pandemic.

  • Now go check out A Terrifying Disease That Will Turn You Into A Tree, or click this other

  • video instead!

Warning- this episode contains graphic images of a flesh eating disease.

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Scientists Warn About Flesh Eating Parasites About to Invade the US

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    Summer posted on 2021/08/08
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