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Acta Vet Scand. 2002;43(4):195-201.

Risk of infection with Leishmania spp. in the canine population in the Netherlands.

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Department of Clinical Sciences of Companion Animals, Faculty Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The dog is the main reservoir of Leishmania infantum, the causative agent of visceral leishmaniasis (VL) in humans in Southern Europe. In order to identify the risk of dogs from a Leishmania non-endemic area traveling to a Leishmania-endemic area becoming infected and the risk of transmitting infection to humans in non-endemic areas an investigation was performed, in which the results of a questionnaire were combined with the results of a serologic survey. The questionnaire was sent to 1478 at random chosen families in the Netherlands. Of the 59.0% responders 28.0% had one or more dogs and 4.8% of these dogs had visited Southern Europe during the summer period of that year. On a total population of 1,200,000 dogs in the Netherlands, this means that each year some 58,000 dogs are at risk of being exposed to a Leishmania infection in Southern Europe. During the period 1990-1992 blood was collected for serology in 1911 dogs presented to the Utrecht University Clinic because of clinical problems not related to leishmaniasis, of which 434 had been in Southern Europe in the foregoing years. None was serologically positive. From these data it can be deduced that the highest chance to obtain leishmaniasis during a vacation in Southern Europe is mathematically less than 1/434 or less than 0.23%. Serology was also performed during the period 1989-1993 in 597 dogs that had been in Southern Europe and were suspected of leishmaniasis. Titers were positive in 145 of these samples. Sixty-four of these dogs were born in the Mediterranean and had been imported into the Netherlands. Excluding these imported dogs, it was calculated that at least 0.027% of the 58,000 dogs yearly taken to Southern Europe during holidays become infected with Leishmania. In order to establish the risk of disease transmission for people in close contact with an infected dog, serum samples of owners and house mates of 37 dogs with leishmaniasis were tested. All 112 sera tested negative. It was concluded that the risk to get leishmaniasis was between 0.027% and 0.23% for the dog when taken to Southern Europe during vacation, and that the risk for owners in non-endemic areas to get leishmaniasis from an infected dog is minimal.

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