Medical Encyclopedia


Medical Encyclopedia

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

Alternative Names    Return to top


Definition    Return to top

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease spread by the bite of the sandfly.

Causes    Return to top

There are different forms of leishmaniasis.

Cases of leishmaniasis have been reported on all continents except Australia. In the Americas, leishmaniasis can be found in Mexico and south into the South American continent. Leishmaniasis has been reported among some military personnel returning from the Persian Gulf.

Symptoms    Return to top

Systemic visceral infection in children usually begins suddenly with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and cough. Adults usually have a fever for 2 weeks to 2 months, along with nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite. Weakness increases as the disease gets worse.

Other symptoms of systemic visceral leishmaniasis may include:

Cutaneous leishmaniasis affects the skin and mucuous membranes. Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

A physical exam may show signs of an enlarged spleen, liver, and lymph nodes. The patient may have a history of being bit by sandflies or being in an area known for leishmaniasis.

Tests that may be done to diagnose the condition include:

Other tests that may be done include:

Treatment    Return to top

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

Other drugs that may be used include:

Plastic surgery may be needed to correct disfigurement by destructive facial lesions (cutaneous leishmaniasis). Removal of the spleen (splenectomy) may be required in drug-resistant cases of visceral leishmaniasis.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Cure rates are high with the proper medicine. Treatment should be received before damage to the immune system occurs. Cutaneous leishmaniasis may lead to disfiguration.

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

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

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

Prevention    Return to top

Preventing sandfly bites is the most immediate form of protection. Insect repellent, appropriate clothing, screening of windows, and fine mesh netting around the bed (in endemic areas) will reduce exposure.

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

References    Return to top

Reithinger R. Cutaneous leishmaniasis. Lancet Infect Dis. Sep 2007; 7(9): 581-96.

Update Date: 10/30/2007

Updated by: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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