Leishmaniasis is an unpleasant disease caused by the Leishmania parasite. The Leishmania parasite usually resides in infected sand flies and you contract the disease after an infected fly bites you. In most cases, sand flies that carry the parasite live in subtropical and tropical environments, meaning over the years there have been many fatal epidemics throughout parts of South America, East Africa, and Asia.
There are a few different types of Leishmaniasis and each has its own share of symptoms and potential complications. For starters, there is cutaneous leishmaniasis, which typically causes ulcers on your skin. It’s the most common type of leishmaniasis, and some people may not even require treatment before the condition clears up on its own.
Next, there’s mucocutaneous leishmaniasis, a rare form of Leishmaniasis that may linger long after your skin ulcers heal. In many cases, this type of the disease results in the parasites spreading to other parts of your body, including your nose, mouth, and throat. It may even result in damage to your mucous membranes.
Last, there’s visceral leishmaniasis, which is systematic leishmaniasis. This form of the disease typically occurs between two and eight months after an infected fly bites you. Unfortunately, it may result in damage to your internal organs, bone marrow, and immune system. If left untreated, this type of Leishmaniasis is fatal.
There are a few different risk factors that may indicate whether you’re at an increased risk for contracting Leishmaniasis.
Leishmaniasis occurs in the Americas, Asia, Mediterranean regions, and the Middle East.
This disease is more common in areas where poverty is rampant, and the following conditions exist:
Leishmaniasis is likely to occur if you’re bitten by a sand fly infected with the Leishmania parasite. This parasite lives and reproduces inside female sand flies and are most active in tropical and subtropical environments. The disease may also bounce from person to person via shared needles and blood transfusions.
Symptoms of Leishmaniasis vary depending on what form of the disease you have. For example, if you have cutaneous leishmaniasis, you’re likely to develop skin ulcers within a few weeks or months of contracting the infection. If you have mucocutaneous leishmaniasis, your symptoms may appear within one to five years after your skin ulcers, and may include the following:
With visceral leishmaniasis, symptoms may not appear for months after contracting the infection. Typical symptoms include:
If you think you may have Leishmaniasis, schedule a visit with your doctor for a checkup. During your checkup, your doctor will run through your medical and travel history and perform tests to check for the presence of the parasite. If you have it, your doctor may then perform additional tests to determine what type of Leishmania you have.
Depending on what type of Leishmaniasis you have, your doctor may recommend a variety of different treatment options. For example, if your doctor may recommend antiparasitic drugs, including amphotericin B, paromomycin, and other types of medications, such as sodium stibogluconate, and miltefosine.
Many people recover from Leishmaniasis, though the disease may result in permanent scarring and disfigurement due to the skin ulcers. However, if left untreated, visceral leishmaniasis can be fatal.
Depending on your condition, you may experience complications such as bleeding, disfigurement, and other infections thanks to the weakened immune system the disease may cause.