Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Leishmaniasis

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

Alternative Names

Kala-azar

Causes

There are different forms of leishmaniasis.

  • 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 - 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, leishmaniasis can be found in Mexico and South America. Leishmaniasis has been reported in military personnel returning from the Persian Gulf.

Symptoms

Symptoms of cutaneous leishmaniasis depends 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:

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

Exams and Tests

A physical exam may show signs of an enlarged spleen, liver, and lymph nodes. The patient may have been bitten by sandflies, or was in an area known for leishmaniasis.

Tests that may be done to diagnose the condition include:

Other tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Medicines called antimony-containing compounds are the main drugs used to treat leishmaniasis. These include:

  • Meglumine antimoniate
  • Sodium stibogluconate

Other drugs 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). Patients with drug-resistant viral leishmaniasis may need to have their spleen removed (splenectomy ).

Outlook (Prognosis)

Cure rates are high with the proper medicine. Patients should get treated before damage to the immune system occurs. 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.

Possible Complications


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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

Prevention

Preventing sandfly bites is the most immediate form of protection. You can prevent a bite by:

  • 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 the sandfly population and animal reservoirs are important. There are no vaccines or drugs that prevent leishmaniasis.

References

Croft SL, Buffet PA. Leishmaniasis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 356.

Magill AJ. Leishmania species. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 256.

Updated: 9/1/2013

Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com