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Leishmaniasis

Dogs can be infected abroad by a number of “tropical diseases” transmitted by parasites.  Examples of these diseases are Leishmaniasis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis and Heartworm disease.  Hereafter you will find more information on Canine Leishmaniasis.

General information and contamination

The Leishmaniasis is a group name for diseases transmitted by one-celled parasites (protozoa) that belong to the genus Leishmania.  These parasites can infect dogs and humans. For humans a distinction in the disease is made based on the place where the symptoms appear, namely in the skin, in the skin-mucosa transition or in the organs. Dogs are mainly infected in the skin as well as in the organs (i.e. bone marrow, spleen and liver).  In the Mediterranean area the Leishmania infantum appears on dogs.

Contrary to Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis, Leishmaniosis is not transmitted by ticks but by the (female) sand fly (see below picture).  In the dog the parasite infiltrates in the macrophage (a cell that has an important role in the immune system). In some cases it is mentioned that the parasite is transmitted from the female dog onto the puppies.

Symptoms:

Leishmaniasis is a chronic disease. The incubation time varies from a few months to 7 years.  Not all infected dogs get sick and the kind of immune response that the dog builds plays an important role.   When dogs do become sick, antibodies are formed (antibodies that are directed against the own body) with the result that red blood cells and blood platelets are destructed. At the same time damage is done in small vessels which cause infections in the vascular bed, the eyes, the muscles and the kidneys.

The symptoms that the dog can develop are:  less physical strain tolerance, loss of weight, lethargy, drinking much and urinating much, less appetite, diarrhea, vomiting and nose bleeding. Also skin lesions can be developed such as hair loss on the head, hyperkeratosis (abnormal crusts on the epidermis, on the nose, and on the soles) scales and anomalous nails.

Diagnosis and treatment:

Leishmaniasis can be proven with a blood test; it detects antibodies in the blood that are stimulated by the presence of the parasite. In combination with characteristic symptoms of the disease it will give enough certainty. In cases of doubt the parasite can be found in tissue of lymph glands or in bone marrow.  Leishmaniasis is usually treated with Allopurinol tablets: this medication is given 3 times a day during six months.

The dog is quickly looking healthy again, but the infection is not gone. Most dogs need to be retreated every now and then. Nevertheless they can grow old with this disease, the medication is not expensive and complications are rare. Only when the dog has severe kidney problems or when the disease is in an advanced state, the prognosis is not good.

Prevention:

At present the sand flies do not appear in Belgium and the dogs that stay in Belgium do not risk contamination. But the global warming might spread further the sand flies which could result in Leishmaniasis infections also in our country in the future.

The best prevention is to avoid contact with the sand fly.  The fly is found in the Mediterranean Coastal areas from spring until late in the autumn.

The sand fly is most active in the evening and at night.  In this period the best way to prevent the contamination is to keep the dog inside.  For this purpose a neck collar, Scalibor®, is available which should protect the dog during 5-6 months against ticks and sand flies.

A new vaccination against Leishmaniasis, CaniLeish®, is available on the market.  Herewith the dog has to be vaccinated several times and it is important to start 10 weeks before departure. The chance on contamination after contact with infected sand flies will then be 3,6 times smaller.

The sand fly is found only in warmer areas, especially tropical and subtropical areas. The Côte d'Azur, the Spanish Costas and the Tunisian beaches are typically areas of high risk where several contaminated dogs are running around that are seldom sick though.

On all continents except Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand you can find Leishmaniasis, although not in every country or parts of the country.  The risk period cannot be easily determined. In France, the highest risk periods are from the end of May until mid-October. This doesn’t mean that the sand fly can’t bite at other times.  It is unclear how far in the mountains it is safe. According to certain sources, Leishmaniasis is not possible in France at 700 m above the sea level, others recommend 1500 meter as safe zone. In more southern areas it will be necessary to climb even higher than this border. 

Spreading in Europe:

Albania, Bosnia, France, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and France: especially the southern part of the Lyon-Limoges area;

North America, the USA:

especially the part on the Mexican border; 

Central and South America:

Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela.;

Africa : Algeria, Burkina Faso, Central-African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Cameroon, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal, Syria, Togo, Tsjaad, Tunisia, Turkey, Zaire, Zambia;

Asia and the near East :

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Djibouti, Egypt, The southern GOS-states, India, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, The United Arabic Emirates, Yemen;

Australia and New-Zealand:

no Leishmaniasis