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The Texas Endemic

Leishmania Has Made Its Way to Texas

While the parasite is common in the Middle East and Central Asia, not many cases have been reported in the United States. After biting someone, this parasite introduces a disease called Leishmaniasis into the human body causing different symptoms including skin lesions and ulcers. 

The way the disease spreads is through a female sand fly biting a person and spreading the disease. After becoming infected, skin sores and ulcers appear anywhere from two weeks to a month after the initial bite. Usually, the disease is found in people who have spent time and traveled outside of the United States, but there were cases found in citizens who had no prior history of traveling outside of the country. The parasite remains uncommon in the U.S. posing a very small risk if not traveling, but there is still a possibility that one can become infected. 

“This method of spreading is trickier because it's reportedly through sandflies, not ingesting,” Dr. Claudia Arakelian said. “That's problematic for an entirely different reason.”

Some cases have been reported in Arizona and Oklahoma, but the species is mainly affecting citizens of Texas. There is a possibility that more cases are floating around the U.S. but there are not many reported or verified cases outside of Texas since other states do not require doctors to report this illness to CDC. Researchers have said that it will be difficult to see how badly this is affecting the US until other states start reporting the illness. 

"This genetic information adds credence to this idea that leishmaniasis is occurring here in the United States, it's endemic here in the United States, at least in Texas and maybe southern border states," CDC epidemiologist Dr. Mary Kamb said. 

On Oct. 18-22, data and information were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), the premier international forum for the exchange of scientific advances in tropical medicine, hygiene and global health. Kamb said that as of now, the parasite does not pose a serious public health risk. Currently, there is no vaccine available but researchers are working to find a vaccine for humans infected by Leishmaniasis. Various doctors have advised to take necessary precautions to avoid these parasites including wearing long and protective clothes while hiking and being in the woods and wearing bug spray while outside. 

We can also prevent parasitic infections with good hand hygiene, washing our hands after handling raw meat, washing raw fruits/veggies thoroughly before consumption, eating meat/fish that has been cooked thoroughly and washing our hands when we pick up after our pets,” Nurse Megan Snow said.

Maintaining safety when it comes to parasites and infections they bring is crucial for the health of individuals and communities.

“I think it's important that you’re taking safety steps to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you,” senior David May said. “We want to keep everybody in this country safe and healthy.”


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