The number of cases caused by Leishmania, a parasite carried by the sandfly, mainly found in tropical and subtropical areas and in countries around the Mediterranean, has increased in Sweden, according to a new study from Lund University (computer translated).

Scandanavia (cropped)
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It’s still a very rare disease here, but the number of cases has more than doubled in the last ten years, according to Sara Karlsson Söbirk, an infectious physician at Helsingborg’s hospital and in her thesis work at Lund University surveyed the disease’s presence in Sweden for just over 20 years.

We have in a collaboration with the Public Health Authority looked at the number of cases between 1993-2016 and see a peak of 35 cases in 2016, probably a direct consequence of the large refugee wave the year before, when most people are sick from Syria and Afghanistan.

It is likely that we will receive more cases in Sweden in the future and then it is good if the health care system knows which patient groups they should be especially aware of.

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We found only five cases in Sweden of the most serious form of the disease (visceral leishmaniasis) during the 23 years we looked at. But in the world, about 400,000 cases are diagnosed annually. The most common form of disease in Sweden (93 percent) is the skin form, cutaneous leishmaniasis, which often heals but can cause disfiguring scars on the face and on the arms and legs.

Karlsson Söbirk says that the need for a functioning vaccine, more effective drugs and better treatment recommendations are needed.

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Leishmaniasis is caused by the protozoan leishmania parasites, which are transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies – flies that are three times smaller than a mosquito. According to the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 700,000 to 1 million new cases annually, and they cause 20,000-30,000 deaths each year.

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There are three main forms of leishmaniasis: cutaneous, visceral or kala-azar, and mucocutaneous.