Epidemiology of visceral leishmaniasis in India

Natl Med J India. Mar-Apr 1999;12(2):62-8.


Kala-azar has re-emerged from near eradication. The annual estimate for the incidence and prevalence of kala-azar cases worldwide is 0.5 million and 2.5 million, respectively. Of these, 90% of the confirmed cases occur in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sudan. In India, it is a serious problem in Bihar, West Bengal and eastern Uttar Pradesh where there is under-reporting of kala-azar and post kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis in women and children 0-9 years of age. Untreated cases of kala-azar are associated with up to 90% mortality, which with treatment reduces to 15% and is 3.4% even in specialized hospitals. It is also associated with up to 20% subclinical infection. Spraying of DDT helped control kala-azar; however, there are reports of the vector Phlebotomus argentipes developing resistance. Also lymphadenopathy, a major presenting feature in India raises the possibility of a new vector or a variant of the disease. The widespread co-existence of malaria and kala-azar in Bihar may lead to a difficulty in diagnosis and inappropriate treatment. In addition, reports of the organism developing resistance to sodium antimony gluconate--the main drug for treatment--would make its eradication difficult. Clinical trials in India have reported encouraging results with amphotericin B (recommended as a third-line drug by the National Malaria Eradication Programme). Phase III Trials with a first-generation vaccine (killed Leishmania organism mixed with a low concentration of BCG as an adjuvant) have also yielded promising results. Preliminary studies using autoclaved Leishmania major mixed with BCG have been successful in preventing infection with Leishmania donovani. Until a safe and effective vaccine is developed, a combination of sandfly control, detection and treatment of patients and prevention of drug resistance is the best approach for controlling kala-azar.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / epidemiology*
  • Male