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Leishmania Infection (leishmaniasis) and Animals

What is leishmaniasis (leash-ma-NIGH-uh-sis)?

drawing of Leishmania spp.
Promastigote (Pro-mast-a-goat) form of Leishmania. Leishmania changes to several differnt forms during its life time. This form is infective to humans and pets.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by Leishmania spp. This disease is rare in the United States, but is occasionally found in dogs. Leishmaniasis can have different forms. The two most common forms involve the skin or the internal organs. People who get the skin form of leishmaniasis may have symptoms that start several weeks or months after the germ enters the body. One or more sores form on the skin and can change over time to look like volcanoes, with a raised edge and central crater. These sores may be painful or painless and may have scabs covering them. Sometimes, people have swollen glands near the sores. If this form of leishmaniasis is not treated, the sores can last for years and cause permanent scars.

People who get the form that affects the internal organs have symptoms that start even later, usually several months after getting leishmaniasis. The spleen and liver, both organs in the stomach area, may become swollen. Swollen glands and changes to the blood are also symptoms of this form of leishmaniasis. This form can be very serious if not treated and may lead to death.

Can animals transmit leishmaniasis to me?

sand fly
Sand fly - the insect that carries Leishmania

Yes, but not directly. Leishmaniasis is transmitted by infected sand flies in areas outside the United States. Sand flies become infected when they bite animals, such as dogs, that are sick with leishmaniasis. The infected flies then bite other animals (including people) and pass leishmaniasis to them. Because sand flies are smaller than other flies and do not make any noise when they are flying, people may not know sand flies are around them.

How can I find out more about leishmaniasis?

Learn more about Leishmania infection at CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases Web site.

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