Leishmaniasis

  • Medical Author:
    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP

    Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Bacterial Infections 101 Pictures Slideshow

What is leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is an infection caused by a parasite that is spread to people through the bite of the female phlebotomine sand fly. The parasite exists in many tropical and temperate countries. Cases in the United States are almost always imported from other countries by travelers or immigrants. Epidemics occur when people are displaced into affected regions through war or migration or when people in affected regions experience high rates of disease or malnutrition.

Picture of a sand fly biting a human arm.
Figure 1: Picture of a sand fly biting a human arm. SOURCE: CDC/Frank Collins

What are the different types of leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is divided into clinical syndromes according to what part of the body is affected most. In visceral leishmaniasis (VL), the parasite affects the organs of the body. Infections from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Brazil account for most cases of VL. Cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) is the most common form of leishmaniasis and, as the name implies, the skin is the predominate site of infection. Most cases of CL are acquired in Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, or Bolivia. Less commonly, cases are reported from other countries including southern Europe. Of note, U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan have acquired CL. Very rarely, isolated cases have been reported from border states like Texas. In some people, CL progresses to involve the mucocutaneous membranes, a condition known as mucocutaneous leishmaniasis (ML). Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis occurs only in the New World and is most common in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/18/2015

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