Leishmaniasis refers to a group of parasitic diseases caused by over 20 species of the protozoan genus Leishmania. The tiny infected phlebotomine sandfly carries the parasites, which cause several different forms of leishmaniasis. Cutaneous leishmaniasis causes skin sores. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis affects the nose, mouth and throat cavities. Visceral leishmaniasis invades organs such as the spleen, liver and bone marrow. Visceral leishmaniasis can be fatal and usually results in fever, weight loss and an enlarged spleen and liver.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that leishmaniasis threatens 350 million people in 88 countries across the globe. Countries in tropical or subtropical regions are particularly vulnerable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies significant occurence of the disease in the Middle East, Central America, South America, Asia, Africa and southern Europe. Leishmaniasis also occurs in the United States.
According to the WHO, the impact of leishmaniasis is grossly underestimated and the number of areas with endemic disease are increasing: the annual addition of new cases is 2 million worldwide. The agency links increases in leishmaniasis in developing nations to environmental changes such as deforestation and the building of dams and cities. The WHO also raises the alarm about the deadly dynamic between HIV and leishmaniasis infections: "In a particularly ominous trend, the spread of HIV infection is bringing the severe visceral form to new geographical areas and changing the epidemiology of this disease in dangerous ways. The two infections coexist in a deadly synergy. Where leishmaniasis occurs in urban areas, conditions often favour explosive epidemics - thus transforming leishmaniasis from a sporadic to an epidemic threat...." (See the WHO website: "Leishmaniasis: Burden of Disease: Magnitude of the problem" )
To Read About Leishmaniasis
Leishmaniasis (MedlinePlus). Created by the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health for the general public, this website contains links to an overview of the disease, tutorials, research, clinical trials, news, statistics and organizations working on the problem around the world.
Leishmania Infection Fact Sheet (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Dr. Mary Ann McDowell's Immunoparasitology page. University of Notre Dame. Dr. McDowell's lab has a special focus on leishmaniasis and a selective bibliography of current research is available.