Leishmaniasis has been recognized since ancient times and, with at least 50,000 deaths a year due to this parasitic infection, it is certainly of current importance. In this article in Microbiology Today (pdf) Owain Millington asks is there any evidence to suggest that it can be considered as a re-emerging disease?
Leishmaniasis has been recognized for several hundred years, with descriptions of cutaneous lesions as early as the 7th century BC. However, it wasn’t until early in the 20th century that Major William Leishman and Charles Donovan independently identified a parasite as the causative agent of ‘kala-azar’. Writing in 1904, Leishman suggested that the identification of Leishmania would ‘help us in clearing up the rest of the life history of the parasite, and put us on the track to what should be our ultimate goal – the prevention and, if possible, the stamping out of the disease’. Yet, despite over a hundred years of intensive research into understanding both this protozoan parasite and the host biology, cases of leishmaniasis in the 21st century are on the increase, with widespread drug resistance and no effective vaccine.