Medvications for treatment of VL according to molecular formula, presentation, dose and route of administration recommended in Brazil.
Leishmaniasis, a neglected disease caused by protozoans of the Leishmania genus, is still present in 98 countries with about two million new cases yearly worldwide. It is transmitted by female phlebotomine sandflies and presents itself as cutaneous, mucocutaneous and visceral clinical forms, depending on the Leishmania species and the parasite‐host relationship. Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is caused by Leishmania (Leishmania) infantum chagasi, endemic in 12 countries of Latin America, with 90% of the cases reported in Brazil. VL is characterized by irregular bouts of fever, weight loss, hepatosplenomegaly and pancytopenia, being highly fatal with no treatment. The main strategy in limiting the expansion of VL, besides the treatment of human cases, is the control of the vector Lutzomyia longipalpis and its reservoirs. There are only few studies on the natural infection of Leishmania species, especially in relation to its endemic distribution. Epidemiological studies of leishmaniasis may indicate the infection rate of parasites in sandflies in order to assess the populations at risk and to direct public health control strategies. In this context, we aimed to review the main features of VL with regard the distribution of disease cases and natural infection rates of Leishmania in Lu. longipalpis in Latin America.
- visceral leishmaniasis
- natural infection
- Lu. longipalpis
- Leishmania (Leishmania) infantum chagasi
Leishmaniasis is a protozoan disease caused by the
The disease presents itself in different clinical forms including cutaneous (CL), mucocutaneous (MCL) and visceral leishmaniasis (VL), depending on the species of
Since VL is no longer being characterized as a rural disease (1980s),  the main strategy to limit the expansion of the disease, besides the treatment of human cases, is the control of the vector
Leishmaniasis is one of the most neglected diseases, present in at least 88 countries across the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, Mediterranean, South Europe as well as South and Central Americas, with a global distribution of about two million new cases yearly worldwide . The disease poses a great impact in public health contributing to 3.3 million disability adjusted life years . It is a parasitic disease caused by the biphasic protozoan of the family Trypanosomatidae, order Kinetoplastida and genus
Leishmaniasis in humans presents a wide diversity of clinical manifestations depending on the complex interactions between the parasite and the host immune responses, ranging from asymptomatic to severe and potentially lethal disease. The disease is classified into three main forms: cutaneous (CL), mucocutaneous (MCL), and visceral leishmaniasis (VL) .
CL is the most frequent clinical form, representing 75% of leishmaniasis total cases, and has an estimated yearly incidence of 0.7–1.2 million cases, being distributed in Afghanistan, Colombia, Brazil, Algeria, Peru, Costa Rica, Iran, Syria, Ethiopia and Sudan [4, 5]. CL is characterized by localized cutaneous nodules or lesions at the site of the sandfly bite (localized form). It has an incubation time of weeks to months, and initially has the appearance of an erythematous papule, which can evolve into a plaque or ulcer or can spontaneously heal in 2–10 months. These lesions are usually painless and without evident systemic symptoms or pruritus. Parasites can disseminate through the skin and form multiple non‐ulcerative nodules (diffuse form), which is associated to an ineffective immune response, especially in patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) [18, 19].
3. Visceral leishmaniasis
VL is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the most important zoonoses, due to its high incidence and mortality. Every year about 500,000 new cases of VL are reported, with 40,000–50,000 deaths worldwide . The disease is endemic in 65 countries, including Bangladesh, India, Brazil, Nepal, Ethiopia and Sudan. In Latin America, VL is present in 12 countries and is caused by the protozoan
The disease has shown significant changes in the pattern of transmission, initially with a predominantly rural distribution, which fly has expanded to peri‐urban and large urban areas [20, 24]. Although the main route of transmission is associated to hematophagous sandfly vectors, there are other routes which are important to be reported, including sexual, vertical and hematogenic .
Although the infection can affect people of all ages, in endemic areas, most reported cases are children below 10 years old. This is probably due to their immunological immaturity aggravated by malnutrition, which is common in these areas [3, 20]. Over 60% of the affected people are males [21, 25].
3.2. Clinical features
VL is also known as kala‐azar or “black fever/disease”, which is a reference to the skin hyperpigmentation by melanocyte stimulation during infection. In addition, other terms are used to describe VL, such as Dumdum fever, Assam fever and infantile splenomegaly. It is the most severe leishmaniasis form and generally affects the spleen, liver, bone marrow or other lymphoid tissues. The syndrome is characterized by fever, weight loss, hepatosplenomegaly, pancytopenia and hypergammaglobulinemia. The fever can be continuous or remittent, and also characteristically described as periods with and without pyrexia, becoming intermittent at a later stage. Patients may also report night sudoresis, weakness, diarrhea, malaise and anorexia .
The onset of VL can be insidious or sudden, and the incubation period varies from 3 to 6 months, depending on the patient’s age and immune status, as well as the species of
3.3. Diagnosis and treatment
The diagnosis of VL is still a challenge, especially in needy regions. Even though serological and molecular tests have improved the laboratory diagnosis of VL considerably, none of the available methods present 100% sensitivity and specificity . The gold standard diagnosis method is still the identification of the parasite, with visualization of amastigotes from bone marrow or visceral aspirates, which holds 100% specificity. However, the sensitivity of the parasitological test varies depending on the sample, and aspirations are invasive and can cause life‐threatening hemorrhages. Serological methods, on the other hand, are highly sensitive but with varying specificity , showing cross‐reactivity with trypanosomiasis, malaria, tuberculosis, brucellosis and typhoid fever . In addition, antileishmanial antibodies can be found in asymptomatic individuals and are still present after treatment and recovery, making the evaluation of therapeutic response difficult [33, 34]. Molecular techniques are remarkably sensitive and specific and can differentiate asymptomatic from clinically active infection even in HIV coinfected patients, but are costly [35, 36].
The first choice of treatment for VL is the antimonial N‐methyl glucamine followed by amphotericin B (AmpB) and derivatives  (Table 1). The AmpB isolated in 1955 as a natural antibiotic was first reported as having antileishmanial activity in the early 1960s. Currently, its liposomal formulation is used to treat VL with a 95% cure rate for a single‐course therapy [38, 39]. Although there are no absolute contraindications against the use of AmpB, nephrotoxicity  and hematotoxicity  should be considered .
|Medication||Molecular formula||Presentation||Dose/route administration|
|Antimonial N‐methylglucamine||C7H20NO9Sb||Pentavalent antimony (Sb+5) Ampoules 5 mL (300 mg/mL)||20 mg/Sb+5/kg/day, once daily, endovenosa or intramuscular for 30 days. Max dose of 3 ampoules per day.|
|Amphotericin B||C47H73NO17||Amphotericin B deoxycholate|
Bottle with 50 mg (lyophilized)
|1 mg/kg/day by infusion for 14–20 days*.|
|Liposomal amphotericin B||C47H73NO17||Bottle/ampoule with 50 mg (lyophilized)||3 mg/kg/day by infusion for 7 days or 4 mg/kg/day for 5 days single dose.|
The liposomal form of AmpB is ideal in the treatment of leishmaniasis, since enables the drug to concentrate specifically at the site of infection, reducing the concentration in others organs [43, 44]. More recently, other drugs such as miltefosine, paromomycin and pentamidine have been used in the treatment of VL in some countries of Africa and Asia, but the efficacy and required dosage of several of these medicines have not been demonstrated in all endemic areas and may differ between these areas .
Some criteria need to be observed for the choice of treatment, such as assessment and stabilization of clinical conditions and comorbidities present at the diagnosis of VL and electrocardiogram. The use of methylglucamine antimoniate has been especially critical in cases where resistance against pentavalent antimonials is widely spread .
Unfortunately, the majority of the population affected by VL is of low income, having no access to diagnosis and treatment options, thereby increasing the mortality rate due to the infection. In endemic areas, VL diagnosis is in most cases based only on clinical characteristics and epidemiologic aspects. Despite the urgent needs, research and development on leishmaniasis have been regrettably neglected.
4. Natural infection of phebotomine with Leishmania
4.1. Vectors of
L. (Leishmania) infantum chagasi
According to Killick‐Kendrick , four criteria must be fulfilled before incriminating a given specie as a vector for a zoonotic disease: feeding on humans and in the animal reservoir, supporting the parasites after ingestion, displaying indistinguishable parasites from those isolated from patients and transmitting the parasite by biting.
Other reports from Argentina and Brazil associated the presence of
Evidence of transmission of VL by
CL vectors such as
4.2. Methods for detecting naturally infected vectors
The report of natural infection by
The classical method to detect natural infection is based on the direct observation of parasites under microscopy, after sandfly gut dissection. However, this
Alternatively, molecular approaches represent a more specific and sensitive technique, allowing the DNA detection of a single
Multiple molecular markers from nuclear and kinetoplast
4.3. Disease cases and natural infection rates in Latin America
The magnitude of VL in Latin America is not completely known, mainly because most countries do not have effective surveillance systems [92–94]. VL was reported in at least 12 countries in Latin America, with Brazil having the highest number of cases, followed by Paraguay, Argentina and Colombia [21, 25] (Figure 3).
The Brazilian Ministry of Health declared a total of 78,444 VL cases in 25 years of notification (1990–2014), with approximately 67% of them in the Northeast region. In this period, the annual mean in the country was 3137 cases and the incidence was two cases/100,000 inhabitants . In addition, an increase of 3.2–6.6% in mortality rate caused by leishmaniasis was reported in Brazil from 2000 to 2014 .
Although resources have been invested in the VL control and establishment of protocols for specific treatment, important territorial expansion of VL in Latin America countries has been registered [21, 25, 95]. In Brazil, it was initially restricted to poor rural areas in the northeast of the country; however, since 1980s, the disease has gradually spread to major cities and peri‐urban areas in North, Southeast, South and Midwest regions [3, 96], occurring in 23 of the 27 Brazilian states  (Figure 4).
Current control strategies to limit the VL expansion are directed against the vector, using insecticides; the canine reservoir by serological screening, by euthanasia in seropositive dogs and by the use of vaccine in asymptomatic animals with negative serological results, in addition to the diagnosis and treatment of human cases. Unfortunately, the results of those interventions have been shown to be modest [3, 96]. Since VL epidemiological data are generally based only on the prevalence of human infection , surveillance strategies based on a better definition of transmission, risk areas and rates of naturally infected sandflies are necessary in order to provide better control of the disease.
Natural infection rates by
|Locality||Specimens (||Technique||Infection rates (%)||Period of collect||Reference|
|Pará, Barcarena||280||PCR||5.3–8.6||Nov 2003–Feb 2004|||
|Pará, Barcarena||1451||Dissection||0.0||Oct–Dec 2007, Feb 2008 and Jan 2009|||
|Maranhão, São Luís Island||800*||PCR||0.25–1.25||Mar–Aug 2005|||
|Maranhão, Raposa||448*||PCR||1.56||Aug 2006–Jul 2008|||
|Piauí, Teresina||1832||Dissection||1.1||Feb 2004–Jan 2005|||
|Ceará, Fortaleza||1220*||PCR||3.7||Feb 2009–Jan 2010|||
|Mato Grosso, Várzea Grande||420*||PCR||0.71||Jul 2004–Jun 2006|||
|Mato Grosso do sul, Campo Grande||105*||PCR||1.9||Oct 2005–Sep 2006|||
|Mato Grosso do Sul, Antônio João||81*||PCR||3.9||No data|||
|Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte||245*||PCR||19||Jul 2006–Jun 2007|||
|245||Dissection||1.22||Jul 2006–Jun 2007|||
|Minas Gerais, Janaúba||1550*||PCR||3.9||Apr 2006–Mar 2007|||
|Santander, Piedecuesta||1138*||PCR||1.93||May 1999–Sep 2000|||
|Aragua, Guayabita||353||Dissection||0.28||Jan 1993–Jun 1994|||
|La Paz, Los Yungas||2578||Dissection||2.2–4.2||Oct–Nov 1982|||
|Misiones, Posadas||211*||PCR||0.47||Jan–Feb 2009|||
According to Cimerman and Cimerman , transmission depends on the presence of high densities of
On the other hand, high rates of natural infection were observed by Freitas‐Lidani et al.  and Saraiva et al. , with 8.6 and 19%, respectively, in Pará and Minas Gerais states (North and Southeast regions of Brazil). Both rates were determined using molecular approaches by individual vector analysis. The local incidences of VL for the same period were 281 (Pará state, Brazil) and 407 (Minas Gerais state, Brazil) cases , respectively. Although the assessment of individual vectors may be more laborious, the great advantage over pooled samples is the achievement of more informative rates of infected sandflies, especially in areas where new cases are beginning to emerge in dogs and humans.
The epidemiology of leishmaniasis is complex due to the diversity of protozoan, vector and reservoirs species, associated to a variety of clinical events. Early diagnosis and treatment of infected patients is crucial to direct public policies of VL control, especially because the disease has common clinical manifestations and geographic distributions with other infections such as Chagas disease, malaria, schistosomiasis, typhoid fever and tuberculosis. In this context, molecular approaches to determine rates of