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Leishmaniasis

AMBULATORY CARE:

Leishmaniasis

is an infection caused by a parasite. The female sandfly carries the parasite and passes it to you through a bite. The infection may affect your skin, mucus membranes, or organs. The infection can also spread throughout your body.

Signs and symptoms of leishmaniasis:

Signs and symptoms may be mild or severe and can develop weeks or months after you were bitten. Skin lesions (sores) can also appear years later, after you have surgery or a skin injury. You may have any of the following, depending on the part of your body that is affected:

  • Skin ulcers (sores that break open)
  • Skin sores that start as small dots and become large scaly or crusty areas, or darkened skin
  • Pain in a skin sore, usually if it is infected with bacteria
  • Fever, fatigue, or weight loss
  • Diarrhea and abdominal pain or tenderness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes)
  • Extra tissue that grows in your nose, or holes in the cartilage of your nose
  • Hoarse speech, tooth problems, or a cough

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your heart is beating faster than usual.
  • You have shortness of breath or trouble breathing.
  • You see blood in your urine or bowel movement.
  • You have trouble urinating or are urinating very little.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.
  • Your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your skin has signs of infection, such as pus or swelling.
  • Your symptoms do not get better with treatment.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment:

Skin sores may go away on their own without treatment. This may take months or years, and you may have scars from the sores. You may need treatment for leishmaniasis that is severe or affects areas other than your skin. Your healthcare provider may use more than one kind of treatment.

  • Medicines may be given to kill the parasite. The medicine may be given as a pill, injection, or through an IV. You may need to put medicated creams or ointments on your skin sores to help them heal. Antibiotics may be needed if you develop a bacterial infection in any of the skin sores.
  • Procedures may be used to remove large skin lesions, repair skin damage, or treat the scars they leave behind. Procedures include using cold, heat, a laser, or electricity to remove the lesion. Surgery may be needed if the area is large or caused more damage beyond the bite area.

Self-care:

  • Rest as needed. Leishmaniasis can make you more tired than usual. Rest can help you feel better.
  • Drink more liquids as directed. Liquids help prevent dehydration and help your organs work correctly. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods can help increase your energy and help you gain weight if you lost too much. If you have less appetite than usual, try eating small meals several times during the day. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, whole-grain breads, and cooked beans. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can help you create healthy meal plans.
  • Care for your mouth if needed. Leishmaniasis that affects the mucus membranes can make your mouth more sensitive. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles or that is made for sensitive mouths. Brush and floss gently. Do not use mouthwash. Some kinds can burn or sting if you have sores in your mouth.

Prevent leishmaniasis:

  • Protect yourself when you go to places where sand flies are found. If possible, stay inside from dusk to dawn. Sand flies feed (bite) during the night hours. They tend to be less active during the hottest times of the day. You can still get bitten if you disturb the sand flies during the day. Keep your skin covered when you are outside. Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts. Wear thick socks and high boots that cover your ankles. Tuck your socks into your pants legs.
  • Put screens on all windows of your home if you live where sand flies are common. Sand flies are smaller than mosquitos. Screens need to have very small holes to prevent the sand flies from getting in.
  • Apply bug repellant. Only spray the repellant in an open area so you do not breathe it in. Follow the directions that come with the repellant. Wash the repellant off as soon as you come inside. Wash all sprayed clothing before you wear it again. Repellant may contain DEET or permethrin:
    • Spray DEET on your clothing and bare skin. Do not spray your face directly. Put a small amount on your hands and apply to your face. Avoid the eye and lip areas. Do not apply DEET to a child who is younger than 2 months.
    • Spray permethrin only on your clothing. Do not spray your skin.
  • Put bed nets over the beds in your home. The bed nets will help keep sand flies from biting you as you sleep. Some bed nets are soaked in insecticide. You can also spray insecticide on the nets if needed. Insecticide can also be sprayed on screens and curtains to help protect window areas.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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