Drought, smallpox, and emergence of Leishmania braziliensis in northeastern Brazil

Emerg Infect Dis. 2009 Jun;15(6):916-21. doi: 10.3201/eid1506.071331.


Cutaneous leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania (Vianna) braziliensis is a major health problem in the state of Ceará in northeastern Brazil. We propose that the disease emerged as a consequence of the displacement of persons from Ceará to the Amazon region following the Great Drought and smallpox epidemic of 1877-1879. As the economic and social situation in Ceará deteriorated, approximately 55,000 residents migrated to the Amazon region to find work, many on rubber plantations. Those that returned likely introduced L. (V.) brazilensis into Ceará, where the first cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis were reported early in the 20th century. The absence of an animal reservoir in Ceará, apart from dogs, supports the hypothesis. The spread of HIV/AIDS into the region and the possibility of concurrent cutaneous leishmaniasis raise the possibility of future problems.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brazil / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / epidemiology*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / parasitology
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Droughts*
  • Female
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Leishmania braziliensis*
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / epidemiology*
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous / parasitology
  • Male
  • Smallpox / epidemiology*