Leishmaniasis, a deadly tropical disease spread by sand flies, has now become endemic in the United States, according to recent reports. Previously, the disease was only observed in individuals who had traveled to tropical countries. However, evidence presented at a medical conference has shown that leishmaniasis has been found in people who haven’t left the country, indicating that the disease is now present in the US.
Most doctors in the US were previously unaware of the existence of leishmaniasis within the country. The disease is caused by a parasite transmitted through the bites of sand flies, which are smaller than mosquitoes. One of the concerning aspects is that people may not even notice when they are bitten by sand flies.
The warming climate is expected to exacerbate the situation, expanding the territory of sand flies and facilitating the spread of diseases like leishmaniasis further north. While leishmaniasis cases have currently only been reported in Texas, sand flies have been discovered as far north as New Jersey, Delaware, and Ohio. This expansion raises concern as other tropical diseases, like malaria, are also spreading northward in the US.
Leishmaniasis has two main types: cutaneous, which affects the skin, and visceral, which affects internal organs and can be fatal. Fortunately, if caught early, the disease can be treated with anti-parasitic medication. However, it may take months or even years for the skin sores to heal. Individuals with visceral leishmaniasis often experience symptoms such as fever, weight loss, and swelling of the spleen and liver.
Additionally, it is worth noting that dogs can also carry leishmaniasis, posing a risk of transmission to other animals and humans. While no human vaccine for leishmaniasis currently exists, vaccines are available for dogs in certain countries.
To prevent contracting the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises individuals in regions with sand flies to avoid outdoor activities during dusk to dawn when the insects are most active. They also recommend minimizing exposed skin and using insect repellent with DEET.
The emergence of leishmaniasis in the US serves as a stark reminder of the potential health risks associated with climate change and the importance of proactive measures to combat the spread of such diseases. Monitoring and surveillance efforts, as well as public education, will be crucial in addressing this growing concern.
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