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Condition

Leishmaniasis

Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

What is the definition of Leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is an infectious disease spread by the bite of the female sandfly.

What are the alternative names for Leishmaniasis?

Kala-azar; Cutaneous leishmaniasis; Visceral leishmaniasis; Old world leishmaniasis; New world leishmaniasis

What are the causes for Leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is caused by a tiny parasite called leishmania protozoa. Protozoa are one-celled organisms.

The different forms of leishmaniasis are:

  • Cutaneous leishmaniasis affects the skin and mucous membranes. Skin sores usually start at the site of the sandfly bite. In a few people, sores may develop on mucous membranes.
  • Systemic, or visceral, leishmaniasis affects the entire body. This form occurs 2 to 8 months after a person is bitten by the sandfly. Most people do not remember having a skin sore. This form can lead to deadly complications. The parasites damage the immune system by decreasing the numbers of disease-fighting cells.

Cases of leishmaniasis have been reported on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. In the Americas, the disease can be found in Mexico and South America. It has also been reported in military personnel returning from the Persian Gulf.

What are the symptoms for Leishmaniasis?

Symptoms of cutaneous leishmaniasis depend on where the lesions are located and may include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Skin sores, which may become a skin ulcer that heals very slowly
  • Stuffy nose, runny nose, and nosebleeds
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Ulcers and wearing away (erosion) in the mouth, tongue, gums, lips, nose, and inner nose

Systemic visceral infection in children usually begins suddenly with:

  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting

Adults usually have a fever for 2 weeks to 2 months, along with symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and appetite loss. Weakness increases as the disease gets worse.

Other symptoms of systemic visceral leishmaniasis may include:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Fever that lasts for weeks; may come and go in cycles
  • Night sweats
  • Scaly, gray, dark, ashen skin
  • Thinning hair
  • Weight loss

What are the current treatments for Leishmaniasis?

Antimony-containing compounds are the main medicines used to treat leishmaniasis. These include:

  • Meglumine antimoniate
  • Sodium stibogluconate

Other medicines that may be used include:

  • Amphotericin B
  • Ketoconazole
  • Miltefosine
  • Paromomycin
  • Pentamidine

Plastic surgery may be needed to correct the disfigurement caused by sores on the face (cutaneous leishmaniasis).

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Leishmaniasis?

Cure rates are high with the proper medicine, mostly when treatment is started before it affects the immune system. Cutaneous leishmaniasis may lead to disfigurement.

Death is usually caused by complications (such as other infections), rather than from the disease itself. Death often occurs within 2 years.

What are the possible complications for Leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis may lead to the following:

  • Bleeding (hemorrhage)
  • Deadly infections due to immune system damage
  • Disfigurement of the face

When should I contact a medical professional for Leishmaniasis?

Contact your provider if you have symptoms of leishmaniasis after visiting an area where the disease is known to occur.

How do I prevent Leishmaniasis?

Taking measures to avoid sandfly bites can help prevent leishmaniasis:

  • Putting fine mesh netting around the bed (in areas where the disease occurs)
  • Screening windows
  • Wearing insect repellent
  • Wearing protective clothing

Public health measures to reduce sandflies are important. There are no vaccines or medicines that prevent leishmaniasis.

Leishmaniasis
Leishmaniasis,
Leishmaniasis
Leishmania
Leishmania

REFERENCES

Aronson NE, Copeland NK, Magill AJ. Leishmania species: visceral (kala-azar), cutaneous, and mucosal leishmaniasis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2020:chap 275.

Bogitsh BJ, Carter CE, Oeltmann TN. Blood and tissue protistans I: hemoflagellates. In: Bogitsh BJ, Carter CE, Oeltmann TN, eds. Human Parasitology. 5th ed. London, UK: Elsevier Academic Press; 2019:chap 6.

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Latest Research

Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Refractory Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis (MCL)
  • Journal: International journal of infectious diseases : IJID : official publication of the International Society for Infectious Diseases
  • Treatment Used: Combined Intravenous Pentamidine, Oral Azole, Aerosolized Liposomal Amphotericin B, and Intralesional Meglumine Antimoniate
  • Number of Patients: 1
  • Published —
This case report describes a 65-year-old Italian male diagnosed with severe relapsing mucocutaneous leishmaniasis (parasite disease; MCL) treated with combined intravenous pentamidine, oral azole, aerosolized liposomal amphotericin B, and intralesional meglumine antimoniate.
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: COVID-19
  • Journal: Dermatologic therapy
  • Treatment Used: Pentoxifylline
  • Number of Patients: 0
  • Published —
The study researched the use of pentoxifylline as a treatment for COVID-19.