Urgent treatment of patients that are struck down with leishmaniasis could be aided by a new insight into the infection.
Scientists at Imperial College London have established the way in which Leishmania parasites, which are transmitted by sand flies, work their way into cells of the body.
They found that the parasites use a cunning ploy, which fools the immune system into allowing it to access cells.
This involves creating a sticky gel after infecting sand flies. When the fly bites a human, the gel oozes into the body and the immune system is enticed to the location of the bite where it is tricked into feeding the parasite instead of destroying it.
Dr Matthew Rogers, lead author of the study from the Division of Investigative Science at Imperial College London, commented: "Leishmaniasis is a very debilitating disease, yet we know comparatively little about the way the parasites are transmitted by sand flies.
"Our new research shows that we must consider the way the parasites enter the body - along with the gel and saliva - if we are to recreate infection and get an accurate picture of what is going on.
Symptoms of a leishmaniasis infection include skin sores and without urgent treatment could damage vital organs.