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US Ecotourists and Soldiers at Highest Risk of Leishmaniasis Infection

Nov 16, 2016 05:04 AM EST
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Love exploring the great outdoors? Maybe now is not a good time. Authorities have alerted increasing cases of a parasitic infection on America ecotourists and soldiers.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) and published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases have released new guidelines to address the looming threat on public health caused by leishmaniasis infection, which is now increasingly seen at an alarming rate among American ecotourists and military men from Iraq and Afghanistan.  

"Leishmaniasis is an increasingly common infection in ecotourists traveling to Central and South America. Travelers visiting the jungle in the Amazon basin have a high likelihood of being exposed," Naomi E. Aronson, MD, lead author of the guidelines told Eureka Alert.

The Leishmania parasite, which is transmitted from the bite of a nearly invisible sand fly, can be found in over 90 countries around the world - including Mexico, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe - mostly in decaying vegetation in the jungle and bites exposed skin at night as if it were a mosquito.

There are more than 20 different Leishmania parasites that can infect humans. The most common is the cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) with an estimated 700,000 to 1.2 million cases worldwide every year, and the most serious form is called visceral leishmaniasis (VL), which could almost always lead to death if not treated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Since the infection is rarely seen in the United States, except from a few reported cases in Texas and Oklahoma, unsuspecting medical doctors who are not familiar with it don't recognize it when they see their patients. Usually a person bitten by the leishmaniasis-infected sand fly feels no pain or any unusual symptom until after a month or sometimes longer.

Aronson recommends that doctors ask their patients if they've recently traveled outside of North America as part of screening, and conducting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a blood test called rK39, and culture to identify the type of Leishmania and to determine the specific treatment. 

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