Visceral leishmaniasis in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected and non-HIV-infected patients. A comparative study

Medicine (Baltimore). 2001 Jan;80(1):54-73. doi: 10.1097/00005792-200101000-00006.


Visceral leishmaniasis is an endemic infection in Mediterranean countries, where it has become a frequent complication of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The incidence of visceral leishmaniasis is increasing in Spain due to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related cases, but some aspects of its epidemiology, clinical features, and management remain unknown. In addition, no comparative clinical studies about the disease in HIV-infected and non-HIV-infected patients have been reported. During a 24-year period, 120 cases of visceral leishmaniasis were diagnosed at our institution and 80 (66%) were associated with HIV infection. The mean age at diagnosis was higher in HIV-infected that in non-HIV-infected patients (33.2 versus 23.2 yr; p = 0.002), but the male/female ratio was similar in both groups. The main risk factor for HIV infection was intravenous drug abuse (78.7%). The clinical presentation of leishmaniasis was similar in both groups, but HIV-infected patients had a lower frequency of splenomegaly than HIV-negative individuals (80.8% versus 97.4%; p = 0.02). HIV-infected patients had a greater frequency and degree of leukopenia, lymphocytopenia, and thrombocytopenia. Most of them were profoundly immunosuppressed (mean CD4+ lymphocyte count, 90 cells/mm3) at the time of diagnosis of leishmaniasis, and 53.7% had AIDS. The sensitivity of serologic studies for Leishmania was significantly lower in HIV-infected than in non-HIV-infected patients (50% versus 80%; p < 0.001), but the diagnostic yield of bone marrow aspirate (67.1% versus 79.4%) and bone marrow culture (62.9% versus 66.6%) was similar in both groups. After initial treatment, the response rate was significantly lower in HIV-infected than in non-HIV-infected individuals (54.8% versus 89.7%; p = 0.001). The relapse rate was 46.2% and 7.5%, respectively (p < 0.001). Secondary prophylaxis with antimonial compounds or amphotericin B seems to be useful in preventing relapses in HIV-infected patients. The mortality rate was higher (53.7% versus 7.5%; p < 0.001) and the median survival time shorter (25 versus > 160 mo; p < 0.001) in AIDS patients than in HIV-negative individuals. Although leishmaniasis could contribute to death in a significant number of HIV-infected patients, it was the main cause of death in only a few of them. The CD4+ lymphocyte count and the use of highly active antiretroviral therapy and secondary prophylaxis for leishmaniasis were the most significant prognostic factors for survival in AIDS patients. Visceral leishmaniasis behaves as an opportunistic infection in HIV-infected individuals and should be considered as an AIDS-defining disease.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / complications*
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / mortality
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / parasitology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Leishmania / isolation & purification
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / complications*
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / mortality
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / parasitology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Recurrence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate