Americans Need To Prepare For The Debilitating Leishmaniasis

America was fortunate to only suffer two deaths linked to the Ebola virus, but now CDC is prompting warnings of a more devastating disease, leishmaniasis. While this parasitic disease is mostly found in Southern Europe, tropical, and subtropical climates, it may be heading to America.

Leishmania infected phlebotomine sandflies are known to spread the disease to humans through a single bite into the flesh. There are three types of leishmaniasis including cutaneous, mucosal, and visceral, with visceral being the more devastating of the three. Cutaneous most often causes skin lesions, while visceral tends to affect the spleen, bone marrow, and liver.

Sand Fly

The sand fly should not be mistaken for a mosquito, since the adult sand fly is only about 1/3 its size. The devastation left behind by these parasites is extremely severe and even to add insult to the disease, effective treatment can be very toxic to human organs.

Leishmaniasis diagnosis involves skin and bone marrow tissue biopsies. While the cutaneous form can relatively heal on its own without treatment, it can take many months or years for the lesions to heal completely and scars are inevitable.

Visceral leishmaniasis is much more difficult to treat and in fact, the main drug used since 1940 has not been licensed for commercial use within the U.S. Pentostam has been licensed for commercial use within the U.S. and is administered through intravenous and intramuscular injection. Miltefosine is capable of treating all forms of leishmaniasis in patients 12 years of age and older, but must be administered over a 28-day period.

There are currently no vaccines available to prevent the spread of the infection. It was recently been reported that several members of an expedition to the Honduran Jungle has developed leishmaniasis. After returning to the United States, the victims began to exhibit fatigue, open lesions, fevers, and chills.

The drug therapy that is capable of effectively treating visceral leishmaniasis may have life-threatening risks, since it can potentially have severe toxic effects on the liver and kidneys.

Between 2000 and 2007, 13 cases of leishmaniasis were confirmed in Texas and Oklahoma. While the risks of contracting the infectious disease is relatively low in the U.S., many travelers to Asia, Mid East, and Africa will be at a much higher risk.