How common is leishmaniasis in the US?

Updated: Feb 18, 2020
  • Author: Craig G Stark, MD, FACP, FFTM, RCPS(Glasg), FISTM; Chief Editor: Pranatharthi Haran Chandrasekar, MBBS, MD  more...
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Endemic leishmaniasis is uncommon in the United States. Although sandflies are found in as far north as upstate New York, and visceral leishmaniasis has been identified in foxhounds in a wide geographic distribution in the United States, virtually no human transmission is believed to occur in the majority of the United States.

Periodic, isolated cases of localized and diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis have been reported in areas bordering Mexico, such as southern Texas, as well as Oklahoma [5, 6] and Pennsylvania, with no associated travel outside the patient’s home. The usual reservoir is the wood rat of the Southern Plains, but parasites have been identified in coyotes and domesticated dogs and cats. Spread by the sandfly vector Lutzomyia anthophora, leishmaniasis cases are usually associated with exposure to the habitat of the wood rat.

There were 2 cases of L mexicana cutaneous leishmaniasis described at the end of 2009 and none after that year. Per the WHO Global Health Observatory Data Repository, no new cases of visceral leishmaniasis have been reported since 2005.

Most of the cases of leishmaniasis found in the United States are acquired elsewhere: US travelers, government workers, graduate students, Peace Corps workers, and military personnel are at risk overseas. Between 1985 and 1990, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was notified of 129 cases involving travelers from the United States who acquired the disease abroad.

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