The northward spread of leishmaniasis in Italy: evidence from retrospective and ongoing studies on the canine reservoir and phlebotomine vectors

Trop Med Int Health. 2008 Feb;13(2):256-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2007.01998.x.


Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) incidence has been increased in Italy in humans and dogs since the 1990s, with new foci being detected within traditional boundaries of endemic transmission but also in northern regions previously regarded as non-endemic. To monitor the putative VL spreading, surveillance was implemented in northern continental Italy comprising: analysis of human cases recorded from 1990 through 2005; retrospective literature analysis of canine leishmaniasis (CanL) and phlebotomine sandfly records through 2002; prospective investigations in dogs from 2003 through 2005 and surveys on sandflies in 2003 and 2004. Two-hundred-thirty human cases (11% of Italian cases) were recorded. Their stratification by age and HIV status disclosed a sharp decrease of HIV/VL co-infections paralleled by concomitant increase of paediatric and HIV-negative adult patients during the study period. Four patients had no travel history. Seven leishmaniasis foci were retrospectively identified since 1990, whereas prospective investigations in dogs disclosed 47 autochthonous clinical cases and 106 autochthonous seropositives among 5442 dogs (2.1%) from 16 foci of six regions. Parasites were typed as Leishmania infantum MON-1. Four vector species were identified among 1696 Phlebotomus (Larroussius) collected specimens. Comparisons with historical data showed that P. perniciosus and P. neglectus have increased in density and expanded their geographic range in the study area. Northern continental Italy is now focally endemic for VL and a moderate risk for human disease does exist, although the intensity of transmission seems to be lower than in traditional settings of Mediterranean VL.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Reservoirs / parasitology*
  • Dog Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Dog Diseases / parasitology
  • Dogs
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors* / classification
  • Insect Vectors* / parasitology
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Leishmania infantum / classification
  • Leishmania infantum / isolation & purification*
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / epidemiology*
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / parasitology
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral / transmission*
  • Phlebotomus / classification
  • Phlebotomus / parasitology
  • Population Surveillance / methods