Skin-Disfiguring Parasite Infections Rise In Southern States, CDC Warns

(Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images)

Julianna Frieman Contributor
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A skin-disfiguring parasite is increasingly infecting residents of southern states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned.

There were 1,222 positive leishmaniasis cases identified in the U.S. between 2005 and 2019, according to an NBC News report published Oct. 20, citing the CDC. A few weeks to months after the a sandfly bites, Leishmaniasis can develop and the disease often causes skin sores to emerge.

“Leishmaniasis is caused by infection with Leishmania parasites, which are spread by the bite of phlebotomine sand flies,” according to the CDC.

Texas is a hotspot for this potential endemic, the outlet reported. Although leishmaniasis remains uncommon in the U.S., cases have been occasionally detected in Oklahoma and Arizona. Unconfirmed cases were also reportedly detected in Florida.

“We cannot say that it is exclusive to Texas, but from the samples that were submitted to CDC, the majority were from Texas,” Vitaliano Cama, a senior adviser with CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, said.

Travel outside of the U.S. to tropical or subtropical climates like those in the Middle East, central Asia, northern Africa and Latin America is typical of those infected with leishmaniasis. However, 86 leishmania samples came from patients with no foreign travel history, the CDC said. (RELATED: More Than 200 People Infected In National Parasite Outbreak)

“Our understanding of leishmaniasis acquired in the U.S. is still really evolving,” Joshua Lieberman, assistant director of the molecular microbiology clinical laboratory at UW Medicine, said. “It’s not clear to me whether the true rate of new infections is increasing or we’re just getting better at detecting it, or both.”

Sandflies are found in several southern states with warm temperatures and woodlands. Texas is the only state required to report leishmaniases cases to its health department and there is no national requirement to report cases to the CDC.