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"You hear some horrific stories about misdiagnosis and mistreatment, because most practitioners in this country and most in Europe have never seen it and very few have ever heard about it. So they will identify it as all sorts of other things than leishmaniasis."
Professor Richard Ashford, professor of parasite and vector biology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
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What is it?
Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease spread through bites from sandflies.

It affects about 12 million people globally, most of them in south or central America, Africa and the Middle East.

There are three sorts of leishmaniasis, which vary in severity.

The most dangerous is "visceral leishmaniasis", which is also known as black fever. This is nearly always fatal if it is left untreated.

It spreads into the spleen, bone marrow and liver and attacks and destroys the immune system.

Another type, "mucocutaneous leishmaniasis", produces disfiguring lesions which destroy the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat.

"Cutaneous leishmaniasis" tends to cause sores on the skin. Some people have had up to 100 and these can vary in size from 2cm to 3cm in diameter.

How can I avoid it?
As the disease is spread by the sandfly the best way to avoid it, is to avoid getting bitten.

The sandfly bites mainly at night so travellers should use a good insect repellent, they should also sleep under insect nets with a very fine mesh.

Leishmaniasis is prevalent in about 90 tropical and subtropical countries around the world.

What do I do if I get it?
Anyone suffering from the symptoms of leishmaniasis, who has just returned from an area in which it is prevalent, should contact their GP immediately.

It is vital that people going to their doctor tell him where they have been travelling so that he can make an accurate diagnosis.

What is the treatment?
The treatment involves a series of about 30 days worth of injections, using a toxic drug to kill the parasite. The patient has to stay in hospital for the duration of their treatment.

This information is for guidance only, and the immunisations recommended may vary widely depending on the nature of your visit. Consult your doctor for advice.


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