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International News: 1 in 40 People in Araras, Brazil Have a Rare Skin Disease

First Posted: May 06, 2014 11:37 AM EDT
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Snuggled amongst hills in the midwest of Brazil lies the village of Araras with an interesting phenomena. One in 40 of its inhabitants have a rare skin disease called xeroderma pigmentosum and likely represent the largest collected group of its kind in the world.

The disease, also known as XP, makes the affected extra sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays and easily susceptible to various skin cancers. Unfortunately, tropical farming is the one of the only ways to make money in Araras.

"I was always exposed to the sun -- working, planting and harvesting rice and caring for the cows," Djalma Antonio Jardim, 38, told Associated Press. "As the years passed my condition got worse."

"The sun is our biggest enemy, and those affected must change day for night in order [to] live longer," Gleice Francisca Machado, a village teacher, added. "Unfortunately, that is not possible."

About 800 people live in Araras, and over 20 of them have XP. With over 2.5 percent of the community having XP, it's likely that they the largest group of XP-afflicted people in the world. For example, only one in 1 million people are infected in the United States.

For a long time, however, doctors did not know what was wrong with the villagers.

"The doctors I went to said I had a blood disorder," Jardim recalled. "Others said I had a skin problem, but none said I had a genetic disease. It was only in 2010 that my disease was properly diagnosed."

At the age of 9, Jardim noticed numerous lumps and freckles on his face, childhood signs of XP. At this point, doctors would recommend certain precautions, but Jardim did not get the warning. As a result, he has had over 50 tumor removal surgeries. He can no longer work outside and lives off of a minimally profitable ice cream parlor and a modest government pension.

On any given day, Jardim dons a large straw hat, an orange tinted mask to hide his skin, which has deteriorated around his cheeks, eyes, nose and lips, and a drawn-in right eyebrow, as it no longer grows naturally.

Araras was founded by a small number of families, several members of which had XP. According to experts, villagers passed the disease on to their children while intermarrying, causing the village's high incidence rate.

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Follow Scharon Harding on Twitter: @SH____4.

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