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What is Leishmaniasis?

Learn more about Leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of a female sand fly transmitting parasites. Sounds yucky huh? Well discover a little something more.
Views: 1.457 Created 01/16/2014

In layman’s terms, Leishmaniasis is a disease spread by the bite of a female sand fly. To be specific, it is actually caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Leishmania and transmitted by the bite of certain species of the sand fly. There are three types of leishmaniasas with each type varying depending on what area of the body it affects.

In visceral leishmaniasis, the disease affects the organs of the body and is considered the second largest parasitic killer in the world, only after malaria. If untreated, this form of the parasite will almost certainly kill the host as it allows omnipresent infections such as pneumonia, dysentery and tuberculosis to rapidly infect the person and lead to death. VL is most commonly found in urban areas of Brazil, India, Sudan and Latin America with cases in countries such as the United States generally a result of travel and immigration. The typical symptoms and signs of VL are fever, enlargement of the spleen and enlargement of the liver being present at times too. With a variable progression timeline, depending on location and host, it can take anywhere from one to twenty weeks to last without treatment.

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis is the most common form of the disease and it predominantly affects the skin of the person who has it. However, unlike visceral leishmaniasis, it is much less dangerous and generally leads to the host having sores and ulcers appear on their skin. While this can be quite the disability, the risk of death is not present and the usual outcome of having this disease is ranging from complete healing to possible scarring of the face and body. Another symptom is that the skin may turn black which is where the commonly referred to name of kala azar (black sickness) comes from.

The third mutation of leishmaniasis is mucocutaneous leishmaniasis, which is a form of CL that has progressed to the mouth, and nose area and can disfigure the host severely. Both ML and CL can and often do occur simultaneously.

Leishmaniasis can live quietly in the body for years before becoming active when the person’s immune system is damaged or lowered and then it will multiply. The people who are most at risk of this happening are those that contract viruses or diseases such as HIV, or are having chemotherapy, both which lower the immune system and leave them vulnerable to leishmaniasis.

Treatment of VL is dependent on country as some newer forms of medication are not available in developing locations where the disease is prevalent. Regardless, of which country the patient is in, intravenous medication will be applied in the form of liposomal amphotericin B or pentavalent antimony. As for CL, if the lesions and ulcers are not substantial then monitoring can be sufficient but if there is a severe case, then oral forms of ketoconazole are used frequently.

As for a prognosis, the disease is rarely fatal when treated properly with medication and VL being the only serious form of the disease that will kill the host if left untreated. It is recommended that people in affected areas use protective clothing, insect repellent and bed mesh coverings in order to prevent getting infected.

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