A once overseas-limited parasite that causes disfiguring skin disease, Leishmania, may now be endemic in Texas and other southern states, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warning.
Leishmania is a parasite transmitted through the bite of infected sandflies and can result in leishmaniasis.
The CDC has recently identified 1,222 cases in the United States that tested positive for Leishmania from 2005 to 2019.
The disease can manifest as skin sores, some of which can be large enough to cause disfigurement. In rare cases, it may lead to symptoms such as fever, weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver, anemia, and even death.
Traditionally, leishmaniasis cases in the United States have been linked to individuals who have traveled to parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and specific areas of Central and South America.
However, the CDC now raises concerns that cases may have been acquired locally in Texas and Oklahoma, and there is potential for the disease to emerge in other Southern states.
Southern US Worried as Unique Leishmania Strain Spreads Locally
Researchers have noted that the Leishmania strain found in the US appears to be genetically distinct from travel-related cases, indicating local transmission.
There have been anecdotal reports of local spread in Florida, but these cases have not been officially confirmed.
Leishmania parasites are transmitted through the bite of infected female sand flies, which are considerably smaller than mosquitoes and often active during twilight, evening, and nighttime hours.
Their bites are painless, and the sores from the edges may take several months to develop.
Unfortunately, no vaccines or drugs are currently available to prevent Leishmania infection.
The CDC recommends minimizing outdoor activities, especially during dusk to dawn when sand flies are most active, is the best way to avoid infection.
Additionally, it is advisable to cover exposed skin, especially in regions where leishmaniasis is prevalent.
As the CDC continues to monitor and study the local transmission of Leishmania in the southern US, residents need to take precautions to protect themselves from this potentially disfiguring and harmful disease.