There are many common diseases that are caused by parasites these days, however, leishmaniasis is undoubtedly not one of them. Many people don’t know what it means, what it entails, and how it is gotten. Well, the reason for this article is to enlighten and educate you about this infection.
Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that is caused by a particular parasite known as the Leishmania parasite. This parasite has a host which it typically lives in, and the host is the sand flies. It is from these sand flies the one gets the disease. Once an infected sandfly bites you, there is every possibility that you may get the disease.
Sandflies are seen to reside everywhere; however, they are most abundant in the tropical and the subtropical areas of the world. Outbreaks that have turned into fatal epidemics have been recorded to have occurred in Asia, East Africa, and South America.
Places that are affected are often the remote areas that at unstable. They, most often than not, don’t have adequate resources to treat this disease or control an outbreak. Doctors who work along the tropics, as well as the borders, have considered this disease to be one of the deadliest tropical diseases there is.
This disease is considered to be within the ranks of malaria and schistosomiasis that kills millions yearly.
Types of leishmaniasis
Leishmaniasis comes in three different forms, and all kinds are considered to be deadly if left untreated. However, some experts have argued that there are more than 20 leishmania species that have been seen to attack humans.
All of these species can be categorized into these three different forms. The forms include:
1. Cutaneous Leishmaniasis
As the name implies, this kind of leishmaniasis affects your skin. It causes you to have a break in the structure and texture of your skin, leading to skin ulcers and, ultimately, skin injuries.
This is the most common form of leishmaniasis. Sometimes, in some cases, treatments may not be needed, especially if it is mild; however, when it gets a bit severe, medications will be required. Timely treatments can help to prevent complications or further worsen the situations.
2. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis
Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis is a rare type of leishmaniasis. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis often occurs as a complication of cutaneous leishmaniasis. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis is caused by the cutaneous form of the parasite i.e., the parasite that affects the skin. It mostly occurs months after the skin injuries have healed.
When you have this kind of leishmaniasis, the parasitic infection tends to spread as far as the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Once this occurs, the infection can cause the partial or full destruction of the mucous membranes that are present in these areas and, as such, cause problems for the patient.
The symptom of this kind of leishmaniasis is that the patient may find it difficult to breathe. Treatment is often required to help reduce the symptoms and treat the infection. In other words, without treatment, the disease won’t resolve itself on its own.
3. Visceral leishmaniasis
Another name for visceral leishmaniasis is kala azar or systemic leishmaniasis. It often occurs when a patient has been bitten several months before the onset of the infection. This means that systemic leishmaniasis occurs months after the initial skin bite.
This kind of leishmaniasis affects the internal organs of the human being, especially the spleen or the liver. It also affects the bone marrow a great deal, and it may often cause a reduction in the immunity levels of the patient.
This condition is considered the most fatal among the three forms. It becomes deadly if treatment is not immediately offered, and it can lead to death after suffering a great deal of pain.
Causes of leishmaniasis
Leishmaniasis is a disease that is a result of the protozoa parasites known as Leishmania species. The carrier of this parasite is the Sandfly. In other words, once an infected sandfly bites you, then you have the tendency to develop leishmaniasis.
The parasite is housed by the Sandfly, where it lives, feeds, and multiply. Just like the female anopheles mosquito that transmits plasmodium, the female Sandfly transmits leishmaniasis.
This insect is mostly active during the night(especially at dusk or within the night’s before dawn)and in humid environments during the warmer days. Although, it’s the primary host is the Sandfly, however, dogs and other domestic animals can serve as a temporary host for the parasite.
This parasitic infection is contagious, and humans can get it from each other through blood, especially during blood transfusions of an improperly screened blood, or through the sharing of needles and other sharp objects.
Also, it is possible for a dog to infect a sandfly, which in turn can infect a human with the disease. In some parts of the world, humans have been seen to infect themselves when an uninfected sand fly bites an infected human being and then goes to bite another uninfected human, thereby successfully transmitting the infection.
Symptoms of leishmaniasis
The symptoms of leishmaniasis vary among the forms. However, sometimes, there may be no symptoms. A person can have leishmaniasis for several months without manifesting any symptoms. Hence, if you think you may have been exposed, it is better to see your doctor.
In the next subheading, we would be discussing the risk factors that may put you at risk; however, for now, let’s talk about the signs and symptoms you may experience once you have leishmaniasis. They include:
1. Cutaneous Leishmaniasis
The major signs you will experience when you have cutaneous leishmaniasis are skin ulcers. Sometimes, the injuries might be painless. A few days or weeks after you have been bitten by an infected sign fly, you might begin to experience skin ulcers.
In some rare cases, you may not experience symptoms until after a few months or years.
2. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis
People who have developed mucocutaneous leishmaniasis may not experience symptoms until after a couple of years later. Generally, once they are bitten and have experienced skin lesions, they don’t experience the next set of symptoms until after about a year to five years later.
The symptoms you will experience if you have mucocutaneous leishmaniasis include:
- Skin injuries in the mouth
- Ulcers in the mucous lining of the nose
- Breaking and sores on their lips
- Nose bleeds
- Runny or stuffy noses
- Intense difficulty in breathing.
3. Visceral Leishmaniasis
In this kind of infection, symptoms may not appear until six months after the initial bite. Most cases that have been recorded with the Centre for Disease Control (C.D.C.) show that symptoms appear two to six months after the initial exposure.
The common signs you will experience if you have visceral leishmaniasis include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Severe fatigue
- Intense weaknesses
- Fever that may last for several weeks
- Enlarged liver
- Enlarged spleen
- Decreased production of blood cells from the bone marrow
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Severe bleeding
- Presence of other infections
There are several factors that can put one at risk of getting infected with leishmaniasis. They are grouped into the following:
1. Location and Geography
According to research, the infection is seen in almost every country around the world except Australia and Antarctica. Current reports show that 95% of cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis reported happened in America, central Asia, the Mediterranean basin as well as the middle east.
In 2015, more than 90% of cases that were recorded in Brazil, Kenya, India, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan happened to be Visceral leishmaniasis. If you are the type that travels a lot to these areas or you live within these regions, you are at an increased risk of getting the infection.
This is because the climate and environmental factors in these regions favor the breeding of sand flies.
2. Socio-economic factors
According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), poverty is one of the determining factors that keep people predisposed to several diseases, including this one.
Leishmaniasis has been seen to be common in areas where malnutrition, lack of financial resources, famine, drought, war, intense environmental and climate changes as well as increased migration are predominant.
3. Other health conditions
People who have a weakened immune system due to an underlying disease such as H.I.V. are at an increased risk of contracting the disease. H.I.V. is one of the viruses that can weaken one’s immune virus and can cause a rapid transmission of leishmaniasis.
It also increases the chances of one developing visceral leishmaniasis. This is because both H.I.V. and Leishmania parasite affects the same kind of cells in the body. However, their symptoms are different.
Research has seen that people who have H.I.V. are almost always infected with leishmaniasis. In Ethiopia, about 35% of people who have H.I.V. have leishmaniasis.
7 Fast facts you should know about leishmaniasis
- About 700,000 to one million cases of leishmaniasis are reported and recorded every year.
- Leishmaniasis is associated with poverty and areas with bad climate and environmental changes.
- Leishmaniasis is often related to environmental changes such as deforestation, irrigation schemes, the building of dams and water drainage, as well as urbanization.
- Leishmaniasis, if not appropriately treated, can quickly become a deadly disease.
- Leishmaniasis is considered as one of the worst tropical and subtropical diseases.
- Changes in climate factors such as temperature, humidity, and so on can encourage the spread of leishmaniasis.
- A parasite and not a virus cause leishmaniasis. It is caused by the Leishmania species, which is transmitted by a host named the sand fly.