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Leishmaniasis is a nasty protozoan disease that affects both humans and dogs in many parts of the world. It is pronounced “leash man eye a sis”. A list of countries where is is common can be found at the end of this article. As our US dog shows see more competitors from foreign countries, and breeding animals are imported more commonly, we will likely hear more about diseases which are largely unknown here. We recently had an example of this in our clinic in a brood bitch from Germany. The owner protested when I suggested a Lyme test before breeding the bitch, saying she hadn’t been here long enough to have Lyme. But Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium named ‘Borrelia burgdorfi’, named for Burgdorf, Germany where it was first identified, and the bitch showed a positive Lyme Western Blot test.
There are many places on the Net where you can go to read about leishmaniasis in humans, and it will be basically the same disease in dogs. There is a skin disease form, a form which causes ulcers in mucous membranes (the tongue and mouth), and a form which affects the internal organs. It may be fatal.
The important things for us to know are:
- It is usually spread by an insect
- It is transmissible to humans from dogs and other animals (and from humans to dog as well); diseases which travel from other animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases
- It may also be contracted by contact with saliva of an infected animal (a bite)
- The insect which is typically associated with the disease is the sand flea – avoid areas where there are sand fleas, especially in warm areas of the country
- The only realistic protection is insect repellent
- There are treatments but they are not always successful
- In humans, the incubation period is 2 to 6 months
- If you think you may have contracted this disease, especially if your immune system is not functioning normally,you must be the one to think of it — you will know that you have had contact with a dog from the infective areas of the world — your doctor isn’t likely to come up with the disease readily since it isn’t often found here.
In most places, the dog is the principal animal reservoir for this disease, but other mammals may also serve, and humans can also be a reservoir. It appears that the sandfly is necessary for the complete life cycle of the disease, but we know of many other diseases which are usually associated with one kind of insect, and we later find out that another one can also be involved. Because the leishmaniasis is not usually found in temperate areas, we really have no data to go on as to whether the a ‘regular’ flea, a mosquito, or one of our tick species could pass it from one mammal to the next. Normally in the sand flea, the protozoans divide and increase in numbers, to be transmitted when the sand flea later bites the next mammal. It is possible that another insect may pass along infected blood through a bite, even if they did not serve as incubators for the organism.
It doesn’t make seem likely that dogs meeting at a show will be in a position to pass the disease to other dogs. Most likely, the infected dog would have to live with the other dogs or people for a period of time for the conditions for transmission to occur. However, if you’re attending a show where you suspect a risk, just as when you show dogs in areas of the country where Lyme disease is common, insect repellents or insecticides make good sense.
Leishmaniasis is endemic in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa, Asia, the Mediterranean, Southern Europe, South and Central America, including
- China (East, North and North-West regions)
- Ethiopia (Red sea coast, Metema- Humera, North of lake Turkana, Woito and Segen valleys, Genale and Gelana river basins, West Moyale)
- France (Southern regions: Nice, Marsielle, Montpellier, Toulon, Avignon, Alpes- Martimes)
- India (In the districts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat)
- Iran (In the areas of Moghan, Fars and Meshkin-Shar)
- Iraq (Central Iraq between the Tigri and the Euphrates)
- Kenya (Machcos, Kuiti, West Pokot, Masinga Meru, Baringo and Turkana districts)
- Pakistan (North-Eastern Himalayan regions, North West Fronteir Province, Punjab, Chilas, Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir , Karakurun mountains)
- Saudi Arabia
- Somalia (Middle Shabelle and Lower Juba regions)
- Sudan (Generally widespread including East of the White Nile extening South to the Eastern Upper Nile states)