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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Leishmaniasis

Kala-azar

Last reviewed: September 1, 2013.

Leishmaniasis is an infectious disease spread by the bite of the female sandfly.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

There are different forms of leishmaniasis.

  • Cutaneous leishmaniasis affects the skin and mucous membranes. Skin sores usually start at the site of the sandfly bite. In a few people, sores may develop on mucous membranes.
  • Systemic, or visceral, leishmaniasis affects the entire body. This form occurs 2 - 8 months after a person is bitten by the sandfly. Most people do not remember having a skin sore. This form can lead to deadly complications. The parasites damage the immune system by decreasing the numbers of disease-fighting cells.

Cases of leishmaniasis have been reported on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. In the Americas, leishmaniasis can be found in Mexico and South America. Leishmaniasis has been reported in military personnel returning from the Persian Gulf.

Symptoms

Symptoms of cutaneous leishmaniasis depends on where the lesions are located and may include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Skin sores, which may become a skin ulcer that heals very slowly
  • Stuffy nose, runny nose, and nosebleeds
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Ulcers and wearing away (erosion) in the mouth, tongue, gums, lips, nose, and inner nose

Systemic visceral infection in children usually begins suddenly with:

Adults usually have a fever for 2 weeks to 2 months, along with symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and appetite loss. Weakness increases as the disease gets worse.

Other symptoms of systemic visceral leishmaniasis may include:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Fever that lasts for weeks; may come and go in cycles
  • Night sweats
  • Scaly, gray, dark, ashen skin
  • Thinning hair
  • Weight loss

Signs and tests

A physical exam may show signs of an enlarged spleen, liver, and lymph nodes. The patient may have been bitten by sandflies, or was in an area known for leishmaniasis.

Tests that may be done to diagnose the condition include:

Other tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Medicines called antimony-containing compounds are the main drugs used to treat leishmaniasis. These include:

  • Meglumine antimoniate
  • Sodium stibogluconate

Other drugs that may be used include:

Plastic surgery may be needed to correct the disfigurement caused by sores on the face (cutaneous leishmaniasis). Patients with drug-resistant viral leishmaniasis may need to have their spleen removed (splenectomy).

Expectations (prognosis)

Cure rates are high with the proper medicine. Patients should get treated before damage to the immune system occurs. Cutaneous leishmaniasis may lead to disfigurement.

Death is usually caused by complications (such as other infections), rather than from the disease itself. Death often occurs within 2 years.

Complications

  • Bleeding (hemorrhage)
  • Deadly infections due to immune system damage
  • Disfigurement of the face

Calling your health care provider

Contact your health care provider if you have symptoms of leishmaniasis after visiting an area where the disease is known to occur.

Prevention

Preventing sandfly bites is the most immediate form of protection. You can prevent a bite by:

  • Putting fine mesh netting around the bed (in areas where the disease occurs)
  • Screening windows
  • Wearing insect repellent
  • Wearing protective clothing

Public health measures to reduce the sandfly population and animal reservoirs are important. There are no vaccines or drugs that prevent leishmaniasis.

References

  1. Croft SL, Buffet PA. Leishmaniasis. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 356.
  2. Magill AJ. Leishmania species. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 256.

Review Date: 9/1/2013.

Reviewed by: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Honey as a topical treatment for acute and chronic wounds
    Honey has been used on wounds since ancient times. Clinical trials have tested the effect of honey in both acute wounds (e.g. burns, lacerations) and chronic wounds (e.g. skin ulcers). The trials results show that honey might shorten healing times for moderate burns compared with some conventional dressings, but there is some serious doubt about the reliability of this finding. Honey used alongside compression therapy does not improve healing of venous leg ulcers. Honey may delay healing in deep burns and in ulcers caused by insect bites (cutaneous Leishmaniasis). There is not enough evidence to give guidance for the use of honey in other types of wounds.
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Figures

  • Leishmaniasis.
    Leishmaniasis, mexicana - lesion on the cheek.
    Leishmaniasis on the finger.
    Leishmania panamensis on the foot.
    Leishmania panamensis - close-up.

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