The insect transmitted parasitic infection, kala-azar, or visceral leishmaniasis (VL) has taken more than 150 lives in South Sudan, according to a recent local media report. 

Sandfly/James Gathany
Sandfly/James Gathany

United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that so far in 2015,  a cumulative 4939 cases and 152 deaths due to VL since January have been reported. This is up significantly compared to the same period in 2013 when slightly more than 1600 cases and 45 deaths were reported.

“The uptick in kala-azar cases is likely related to conflict related displacement, as non-immune populations move into endemic areas,” said OCHA.

The experts at ProMed Mail say that South Sudan is probably the most endemic area for this infection in the world. Kala-azar is endemic in remote areas of northern Jonglei and southern Upper Nile states, where communities are exposed to insect bites as they often sleep without mosquito nets.

Visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar) is a deadly disease caused by the Leishmania donovani protozoan parasite and transmitted through the bite of sandflies. Without prompt appropriate treatment, as many as 95% of kala-azar patients die, resulting in at least 50,000 deaths per year worldwide, according to a 2008 Emerging Infectious Diseases report.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

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