[ASC-media] Media release: worms in paradise

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Mon Aug 16 09:31:26 EST 2004


August 16, 2004


Parasite paradise lies just a few hours' north of Cairns - and Australian scientists are at the forefront of an international bid to make it hell for the worms.

Reverend Dr Wayne Melrose of James Cook University is part of a World Health Organisation team working to save lives and help parasite-affected children in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and East Timor. 

Dr Melrose and his team at the School of Tropical Medicine are developing improved diagnostic tests for parasitic worm infestation, and better treatment programs.

"Parasite paradise is just a few hours north of Cairns," says Dr Melrose. "Three hundred million people, mostly young, are made seriously ill by parasitic worm infection in developing countries, including our near neighbours. More than one hundred and fifty thousand people die of parasitic worm infestation each year. Small foci of parasitic worms are also found in indigenous communities in Australia's top end.

"Australian researchers offer invaluable practical assistance as well as cutting-edge diagnostic tests and research at the molecular level," he says. "Annual treatment for worm infestation can cost as little as a few dollars per child, but serves very little purpose if the surrounding infrastructure is not improved as well."

Dr Melrose says that the majority of people infested with parasitic worms are early school-age children, and it has recently been recognised that a major problem caused by worms is children's learning difficulty. The physical health of an infected child may be seriously affected by poor nutrition, and the presence of worms can cause irritating or painful symptoms which make concentration on school work extremely difficult.

Dr Melrose says that 'the big three' intestinal worm types are roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms; and as well as these there filarial are worms which infest the blood of the victim, damage the  kidneys and lead to the permanent swelling of limbs, scrotum or breast, called elephantiasis. Schistosome worms, spread to humans by infected snails, can cause cancer of the bladder or liver.  Parasites also cause suppression of the immune system which makes the person susceptible to other infections and reduces the efficacy of vaccination.

"We have to take a two-pronged approach," says Dr Melrose. "While molecular biologists in the laboratory are looking at the detailed structure and behaviour of parasites, researchers in the field have to understand both the parasite in the person, and the person in the community.

"In many parts of the developing world there is still a profound distrust of 'Western' medicine," he says. "Parasitism by worms is also not seen as the primary or major threat to community welfare, and parasite control has to be fitted into other existing community health programs.

"Parasitology has to be linked to soil and water science, the control of insect carriers such as mosquitoes, and even sociology," he says. "Australian researchers tend to be very result-oriented, and are looking for practical solutions out there in the community."

Dr Melrose is one of more than 160 eminent Australian scientists available for interview about their work and science in general during National Science Week. For details visit: www.scienceweek.info.au and click to the Media site.

To contact Dr Wayne Melrose: phone 07 4781 6175

For information on National Science Week:
Telephone: 02 6205 0281
Mobile: 0407 781 891
Facsimile: 02 6207 0072
E-mail:scienceweek at orac.net.au

For more events in National Science Week 2004, please visit:

National Science Week is supported by the Commonwealth Government Department of Education Science and Training (DEST) and the Department of Industry Tourism and Resources (DITR).

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