What is the role of military action in the incidence of leishmaniasis in the US soldiers?

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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During World War II, more than 1000 cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis were reported among US service members serving in the Persian Gulf. Illnesses now attributed to leishmaniasis have been identified throughout military campaigns from World War I back to antiquity.

During the first Persian Gulf War, an estimated 400 cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis and 12 cases of viscerotropic leishmaniasis were reported. [7] The etiologic agent for most of the cutaneous leishmaniasis cases appears to have been L major. Since 2001, more than 700 US military personnel have been diagnosed with cutaneous leishmaniasis and 4 with visceral leishmaniasis after serving in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan led to approximately 2000 laboratory-confirmed cases (and at least double the number of unconfirmed cases) of cutaneous leishmaniasis and 5 laboratory-confirmed cases of visceral leishmaniasis in American soldiers alone from 2003-2008. [8, 9] More than 500 cases of leishmaniasis were diagnosed over an 18-month period in soldiers returning to the United States from the Middle East, especially from Iraq. A large portion of these was identified as cutaneous leishmaniasis. Up to 1% of US forces serving in the Southwest Asian Theater may have been infected. [10]

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