Canine leishmaniasis cases are confirmed in 21 states

Aug. 25, 2000 -- Results of DNA and blood tests obtained by scientists at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed cases of visceral canine leishmaniasis -- a rare, often fatal tropical disease that can be transmitted to humans and other animals -- in 21 U.S. states and southern Canada.

The test results suggest leishmaniasis is substantially more widespread in North American canine populations than originally thought.

"We have a very serious disease that leads to chronic debilitation and kidney failure in dogs, and can lead to their death. Unfortunately the disease is extremely hard to diagnose," says Dr. Edward Breitschwerdt, professor of small animal internal medicine at NC State, who helped lead the research effort to facilitate more widespread testing for leishmaniasis after diagnosing the disease at a New York hunt club last spring.

Until researchers determine how leishmaniasis is transmitted in the United States, the threat to human health is not completely known, Breitschwerdt says. Direct contact transmission would pose a far smaller risk than transmission by insects like sand flies or ticks. That mode of transmission, Breitschwerdt says, could create a public health concern.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic infection and most often occurs in rural areas of the tropics and subtropics, where the most common species of the parasite is transmitted by the bite of an infected female sand fly. Symptoms of leishmaniasis include skin lesions, nose bleeds, swollen lymph glands, weight loss, seizures, hair loss, kidney failure and swollen limbs and joints.

The disease is potentially fatal in humans, but can be treated. While there is no cure for leishmaniasis in dogs, it can be put into remission.

Breitschwerdt says leishmaniasis is prevalent in southern Europe, India and South America, but, until very recently, was not though

Contact: Greg Thomas, NC State University News Services
North Carolina State University

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