Leishmaniasis continues to spread in southern province

Leishmaniasis continues to spread in Iraq’s southern province of Qadissiyah, about 130km south of Baghdad, with at least 275 cases so far, a local official said.

[Read this report in Arabic]

The figure of 275 comprises 212 cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis, also known as Baghdad boil disease, and 63 cases of visceral leishmaniasis, or `kalaazar’, Hindi for black fever, said Mohammed Sahib, a dermatologist at Qadissiyah General Hospital.

“Cutaneous leishmaniasis is not fatal, but can cause up to 200 facial lesions and crater-shaped sores, leaving patients seriously disfigured. Kalaazar can kill, and causes fever, weight loss, anaemia, and swelling of the spleen and liver,” Sahib said.

Children are particularly at risk because they typically have weaker immune systems than adults, he said. A single sand fly bite can be enough to transmit the disease.

Local health authorities were still suffering from a shortage of medicines to treat the disease, he said: “The medicines are not enough, as the disease is spreading and in addition to medical treatment there should be insecticide spraying campaigns to kill the sand flies.”

Fa'eq Abdul-Hadi of the Baghdad health directorate said overcrowded living conditions in southern Iraq, where it is difficult to access clean water, and plenty of stagnant pools of water in which flies can breed, had hampered progress against the disease.

He said leishmaniasis cases had dropped substantially since 2004, but progress eliminating the disease had been slow.

“Though the disease was first identified in Iraq more than a century ago and has long been present in the country, outbreaks were rare before 2003. But since the conflict began, the destroyed health system has allowed viruses lurking in the environment to return,” Abdul-Hadi said.

The peak transmission season for leishmaniasis typically begins in May, he said.

sm/ar/cb