Background: Leishmania coinfection is frequently seen in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected patients in endemic areas, and from time to time the protozoan is detected in cutaneous biopsies.
Objective: To establish the characteristics and possible ethiologic role of the presence of Leishmania in these lesions.
Methods: We studied 12 cutaneous biopsies with Leishmania organisms from nine HIV-infected patients (seven men and two women) with visceral leishmaniasis, diagnosed by bone marrow examination, seen over a period of 9 years.
Results: Based on clinical characteristics, evolution and response to anti-leishmanial treatment, cutaneous alterations were found to be related to the presence of the protozoan in six cases, whereas in the other six cases it was not considered responsible for the dermatological lesions (dermatofibroma, and lesions of psoriasis, Reiter's syndrome, bacillary angiomatosis, cryptococcosis and oral aphthae). Of note was the high prevalence of specific mucocutaneous manifestations, usually accompanied by intense pruritus, great variability, and a tendency to relapse after treatment stopped. On two occasions, detection of the protozoa in skin biopsies led to the diagnosis of a previously unsuspected visceral leishmaniasis.
Conclusions: Cutaneous detection of Leishmania is frequent in HIV-infected individuals with visceral leishmaniasis. Sometimes Leishmania is associated with changes attributable to other dermatological processes, and its presence does not imply a causative role. A clear relationship between the systemic process and the therapeutic response is necessary to demonstrate an ethiologic role.