Most Americans haven’t heard of leishmaniasis, an ancient, disfiguring disease that’s known by a variety of disturbing nicknames around the world: Baghdad boil, Calcutta ulcer and Jericho button. That could be changing, as evidence emerges that the parasitic skin infection that used to crop up mainly among international travelers is now endemic — or constantly present — in parts of the US. And it’s taking on a uniquely American identity.
In Texas, where doctors are required to report cases to health authorities, infections are creeping up and now occur mostly in non-travelers. It’s in southeast Oklahoma and has been found in Arizona. There’s concern that climate change and a ready supply of critters capable of transmitting and harboring the infection are fanning further spread.
Genetic testing of 86 locally acquired cases showed that the majority were infected by a variant of the Leishmania mexicana parasite that may have originated in the US.
“There have been previous indications of local transmission based on a small number of case reports,” said Mary Kamb, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the study. “Now, for the first time, we have a distinct genetic fingerprint from a relatively large cluster, providing further evidence that leishmaniasis may be well-established in some parts of the US.”
The results were presented Thursday at a scientific meeting in Chicago.
Leishmaniasis-causing parasites are transmitted by some 70 species of sand fly. In the Western hemisphere, the main culprits are Lutzomyia insects, which feed on blood. They are found in many parts of the US, especially southern states.
The parasite resides in a “reservoir” of animals — mostly rodents, opossums and armadillos — that female sand flies readily feed on. American cats and dogs have also become infected, and there’s concern that imported dogs infected abroad could harbor a life-threatening visceral form of the disease.
In humans, cutaneous leishmaniasis causes hard-to-heal, ulcerating sores the size of a half-dollar or larger that can last 6 to 12 months. While there are medications to treat them, the sores can become disfiguring scars if they are allowed to fester.
Dermatologists in Texas are accustomed to spotting the infection, but it’s not as well recognized in other states. That’s hampered efforts to determine how widely the parasites have spread, Kamb said.
Having a genetic test to identify infections caused by the newly identified local strain should make that easier.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.
Courtesy – www.hindustantimes.com