Leishmaniasis - Cause and Transmission

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If known, what was the cause of your leishmaniasis, or how was it transmitted?

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What causes leishmaniasis? How is leishmaniasis transmitted?

Leishmaniasis is caused by protozoal parasites from the Leishmania species. The organisms are microscopic in size. There are about 21 species of Leishmania that affect humans, including the L. donovani complex and the L. Mexicana complex, among others. The life cycle is relatively simple. When the sand fly bites a human, it injects small numbers of parasites which are rapidly taken up by mononuclear blood cells. This stage is called the promastigote stage. Once inside the human mononuclear cells, the parasite enters the amastigote stage and begins to multiply and infect other cells and tissues. Uninfected sand flies acquire the parasite by feeding on infected people or infected animals such as dogs, foxes, or rodents.

Figure 2: Life cycle of Leishmania
Figure 2: Life cycle of Leishmania

Less commonly, parasites may be transmitted by blood transfusion or through drug users sharing contaminated needles. Leishmania may also be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her fetus.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: Army Girl, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: August 14

I contracted it from a sand fly in Iraq in 2004 while serving with the U.S. Army.

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Comment from: Michael, 25-34 Male (Patient) Published: June 09

I spent all of 2003 and 2004 in Iraq and got leishmaniasis. When we first arrived in Tel Afar in 03 there was a massive infestation of field mice near the airfield. Military corps dusted the area to kill them off. Then the sand flea/fly fed off of them transmitting the parasites to the flea. I was the only one out of 35 in my platoon that didn't have to get the 10 day IV treatment. My body fought the disease on its own. Results of that have been heart breaking for me. The parasite carried an anti-body called alpha-gal. Alpha-gal is also a sugar that is found in the protein of red meat therefore my body continues to fight. Which means, yes, I am now allergic to red meat. Medically if you develop this you will be sick to your stomach and not feel good for multiple days sometimes weeks. Although in Iraq I wouldn't have noticed with the dysentery.

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