CDC: Skin-Disfiguring Disease 'Well-Established' in US


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CDC: Skin-Disfiguring Disease 'Well-Established' in US

By Mark Swanson | Friday, 24 November 2023 08:29 PM EST

A skin disfiguring parasitic disease transmitted by sand flies has been on the rise in the United States over the past decade, made more alarming by dozens of infections in patients with no travel history, according to researchers with the Centers for Disease Control.

Cutaneous leishmaniasis, the most common form of the disease, results in sores that can lead to skin ulcers and disfiguring scars. It's estimated to affect 1 million people each year in the Middle East, central Asia, northern Africa, and Latin America. And it's now "well-established" in the U.S.

The unexpected rise in the U.S. is highlighted by the disease in 86 patients with no travel history.

"There have been previous indications of local transmission based on a small number of case reports. But 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 United States," Dr. Mary Kamb, an epidemiologist with the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infections, said last month.

Kamb and others presented their findings at the 72nd American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual meeting in Chicago.

Kamb reported that most of the infections in the U.S. were in Texas.

"While most of these infections were in people living in Texas, sand flies that can transmit leishmaniasis are found in many parts of the country and especially in the southern United States," Kamb said.

Patients have also been diagnosed in Oklahoma, Arizona, and North Dakota.

Dogs coming in from parts of the world where leishmaniasis is more prevalent are feared to be transferring the parasite to domestic sand flies.

"Dogs are the primary host for this disease, and there are dogs now regularly coming into the U.S. that have lived in areas where Leishmania parasites circulate in animals and people. We need a better system for guarding against the risk of introducing Leishmania infantum, one of the world's deadliest tropical parasites, into U.S. sand fly populations," said Dr. Christine Petersen, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa.

The type of disease most common in the U.S. is Leishmania mexicana, a milder form.

"Some people with cutaneous leishmaniasis have silent infection, which means they do not have any symptoms or signs," Jenny Park, a health communication specialist at the CDC told Newsweek.