Leishmaniasis: What causes Leishmaniasis, Symptoms, Diagnoses, Prevention, Treatment & More

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by the Leishmania parasite and this parasite is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected sandflies.

The symptoms of this disease are skin sores, fevers, and weight loss, and in severe cases, it can cause organ damage and death.

Leishmaniasis occurs in many countries in the tropics, subtropics, and southern Europe and affects people of all ages and socioeconomic statuses.

There is no vaccine for leishmaniasis to prevent it, but it is treatable and treatment options include drugs, such as antimonials and miltefosine, and surgery is done in severe cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 12 million people are affected by leishmaniasis around the globe, and about 2 million new cases are recorded each year.

What Causes Leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is caused by a parasite of the genus Leishmania. The parasite is transmitted to human beings through the bite of infected sandflies.

Sand flies are small insects that feed on the blood of mammals such as dogs, goats, horses, humans, etc to obtain the nutrients they need to lay their eggs.

When a sand fly bites an infected person, it picks up the parasite, and then this parasite multiplies inside the fly. When the infected sand fly then bites a healthy person, it passes the parasite on. So in this way, parasites pass on from the infected person to a healthy one.

Types of Leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is a diverse group of diseases caused by different species of Leishmania parasites. The disease can be manifested in several forms, depending on the species of parasite and the immune response of the host. There are three main types of leishmaniasis include:

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common type of disease and affects the skin. It is characterized by one or more skin sores that develop at the site of the sand fly bite.

The sores usually start as small, painless papules that slowly enlarge and become ulcerated. Cutaneous leishmaniasis scarring is common and can last for months or years.

Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis

Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis is a severe type of disease that affects both the skin and mucous membranes, such as the mouth and nose.

It can cause disfigurement and permanent damage to the affected areas. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis is more common in South America than in other regions.

Visceral Leishmaniasis

Visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala-azar, is the most severe type of disease and can cause death if it is left untreated.

It affects internal organs, such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow, and causes severe symptoms like fever, weight loss, and anemia. Visceral leishmaniasis is more common in Asia and Africa.

Each type of leishmaniasis requires specific treatment.  prompt diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent serious complications and improve the health of the infected individual in a short time.

Symptoms of Leishmaniasis

The symptoms of leishmaniasis can vary and may not appear for weeks or months after the initial infection.

some people do not show any symptoms at all, while others may develop severe, life-threatening complications. So the symptoms of leishmaniasis vary from person to person.

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis  symptoms

Cutaneous leishmaniasis affects the skin and is characterized by the appearance of one or more sores at the bite site of the sand fly.

The sores usually grow as small, painless papules that slowly enlarge and become ulcerated. Other symptoms may include:

  • Redness and swelling around the affected area
  • Formation of scar tissue
  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Itching or burning sensation

Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis

Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis affects both the skin and mucous membranes, such as the mouth and nose. Symptoms may include:

  • Sores or ulcers on the skin and mucous membranes
  • Disfigurement of the face, hand, leg or other affected areas
  • Difficulty eating or speaking
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Sometimes bleeding from the nose
  • Loss of eyebrows or eyelashes 

learn more about sore throat

Visceral Leishmaniasis

Visceral leishmaniasis affects internal organs, such as the liver, spleen, pancreas, and bone marrow. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Anemia
  • Enlarged spleen or liver
  • Weight loss
  • Bleeding
  • Decreased production of blood cells
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weakness and fatigue

If you see any symptoms of leishmaniasis, it is important to promptly seek medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent serious complications.

Treatment for Leishmaniasis

 The type of treatment for leishmaniasis depends on the type of infection and the severity of the symptoms.

Drugs for the treatment of leishmaniasis

Drug therapy is the most common form of treatment for leishmaniasis. Antimonials and miltefosine are two drugs that are commonly used to treat cutaneous and visceral leishmaniasis.

Amphotericin B, paromomycin and pentamidine are also used to treat visceral leishmaniasis.

The choice of drug and the length of treatment depend on several factors, such as the type of infection, the severity of symptoms, and the person’s overall health.

The drugs are usually taken orally, but in some cases, they may be given by injection.


Surgery can be required in severe cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis, especially if the sores are disfiguring or affecting the function of the affected area. Surgical techniques, such as excision or skin grafting removes the infected tissue and promote the healing of a wound.

Supportive Care

Supportive care is an important part of the treatment of leishmaniasis. Supportive care includes wound care, nutrition support, and medications to relieve pain and other symptoms.

Who are at risk of leishmaniasis?

People who live or travel in regions where Leishmaniasis is endemic and where the sand fly vector is present are at risk of this disease. Some populations that are particularly vulnerable to leishmaniasis include:

  • People from rural or suburban areas
  • People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS
  • Travelers and tourists
  • People living in poverty or overcrowded conditions
  • Military corps

people who engage in outdoor activities, such as camping, hiking, and hunting, or who work in industries such as agriculture and mining, may be also at risk of exposure to sand flies and the risk of infection.

Complications of Leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that can cause severe and sometimes life-threatening complications if it is not treated on time.

The complications of leishmaniasis depend on the type of infection and the severity of the symptoms.

Cutaneous Leishmaniasis complications

Cutaneous leishmaniasis can lead to scarring and disfigurement, particularly if the sores are located on the face or other visible areas.  Cutaneous leishmaniasis can cause complications such as:

  • Formation of scar tissue
  • Persistent or recurrent sores
  • Secondary infections
  • Discoloration of the skin

Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis complications

Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis can cause disfigurement of the face or mucus membrane, making it difficult to eat, speak, or breathe. The common symptoms of mucocutaneous leishmaniasis include:

  • Loss of eyelashes or eyebrows
  • Permanent damage to the mucous membranes
  • Difficulty eating or speaking

Visceral Leishmaniasis complications

Visceral leishmaniasis can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications, such as:

  • Anemia
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Weight loss
  • Organ damage, particularly to the liver, spleen, and bone marrow
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Increased risk of death

It is important to seek prompt medical help if you have symptoms of leishmaniasis

Prevention of Leishmaniasis

 There is no vaccine for leishmaniasis, but there are certain preventive measures that can reduce the risk of infection and disease spreading. Here are some preventive tips:

Stay away from Sand Fly Bites

The most important measure for preventing leishmaniasis is to stay away from sandfly bites. This can be done by:

  • Using bed nets during sleeping
  • Wear long sleeves and pants
  • Stay in well-screened or air-conditioned areas when possible
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET or picaridin
  • Prompt Diagnosis and Treatment

Management of environment

Environmental management is necessary to reduce the presence of sand flies. This can prevent leishmaniasis.

Environmental management includes controlling rodent populations, reducing standing water, and using insecticides to kill sandflies.

Health and Hygiene

Maintaining good health and hygiene practices can also reduce the occurrence of leishmaniasis.

This may include taking measures to prevent infections, eating a balanced diet, and getting the required sleep and exercise.

Through these preventive measures, you can reduce the risk of infection and improve your chances of avoiding leishmaniasis.

Diagnosis of Leishmaniasis

Diagnosing leishmaniasis usually involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory testing.  

Medical History and Physical Examination

A healthcare professional will first note a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination to see the signs of leishmaniasis.

This physical examination includes assessing the presence of skin sores, looking for organ enlargement, and checking for signs of anemia or weight loss.

Laboratory Testing

The following laboratory tests may be used to diagnose leishmaniasis:

  • Blood tests to look for antibodies against the parasite
  • Microscopic examination of tissue samples to observe sores
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to detect the parasite’s genetic material in sores or blood samples
  • Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy to look for evidence of the parasite in the bone marrow
  • Imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans, to look for organ enlargement or other complications

The diagnosis of leishmaniasis can be challenging in areas where the prevalence of this disease is not common. A healthcare professional performs a series of tests and rules out other medical conditions before making a confirmative diagnosis.


Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by the bite of infected sandflies. It can cause various types of symptoms such as skin sores, disfigurement, organ damage, and weight loss.

The type of symptoms and severity of the disease depends on the type of leishmaniasis.

Currently, there is no vaccine for this disease, but preventive measures can be taken to reduce the risk of infection and prevent the disease from spreading.

Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can prevent serious complications and improve the early recovery of infected individuals.


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