Objective: To actively detect leishmaniasis in HIV-1-infected individuals in Italy, to describe the epidemiological features of the disease in these patients, and to compare them with epidemiological features of leishmaniasis in HIV-negative patients.
Design: Retrospective and prospective surveillance study.
Patients: Italian patients with HIV-1 infection and leishmaniasis diagnosed between 1985 and 1994.
Results: We recorded 116 leishmaniasis cases (115 visceral leishmaniasis), of which 94 (81%) were diagnosed over the last 4 years. Seventy-eight patients (67%) fulfilled the 1993 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention AIDS criteria. Leishmaniasis was passively reported in only 18% of cases. Leishmania incidence estimated among approximately 2700 AIDS patients living in leishmaniasis endemic areas averaged 1.6%, with a maximum of 4.9% in Sicily. These rates were up to 500-fold higher than among HIV-negative individuals living in the same areas, and were similar to those of ubiquitous opportunistic agents indicative of AIDS condition. Data from two major endemic regions indicated that overlap of HIV-1 and Leishmania infections has focal characteristics. The occurrence of small case clusters would suggest occasional modes of Leishmania transmission different from the insect vector. The isoenzyme characterization of 38 Leishmania stocks showed a zymodeme spectrum qualitatively and quantitatively different from that of the parasitic agent of visceral leishmaniasis in HIV-negative adults.
Conclusions: Active surveillance provided reliable evaluation on the occurrence of HIV-Leishmania coinfections in Italy, although it was limited to hospital-based cases in this study due to general under-reporting of cases. Biological and epidemiological spectrum of the disease suggests that visceral leishmaniasis should be included among AIDS-defining pathologies.