Leishmania and human immunodeficiency virus coinfection: the first 10 years

Clin Microbiol Rev. 1997 Apr;10(2):298-319. doi: 10.1128/CMR.10.2.298.


Over 850 Leishmania-human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) coinfection cases have been recorded, the majority in Europe, where 7 to 17% of HIV-positive individuals with fever have amastigotes, suggesting that Leishmania-infected individuals without symptoms will express symptoms of leishmaniasis if they become immunosuppressed. However, there are indirect reasons and statistical data demonstrating that intravenous drug addiction plays a specific role in Leishmania infantum transmission: an anthroponotic cycle complementary to the zoonotic one has been suggested. Due to anergy in patients with coinfection, L. infantum dermotropic zymodemes are isolated from patient viscera and a higher L. infantum phenotypic variability is seen. Moreover, insect trypanosomatids that are currently considered nonpathogenic have been isolated from coinfected patients. HIV infection and Leishmania infection each induce important analogous immunological changes whose effects are multiplied if they occur concomitantly, such as a Th1-to-Th2 response switch; however, the consequences of the viral infection predominate. In fact, a large proportion of coinfected patients have no detectable anti-Leishmania antibodies. The microorganisms share target cells, and it has been demonstrated in vitro how L. infantum induces the expression of latent HIV-1. Bone marrow culture is the most useful diagnostic technique, but it is invasive. Blood smears and culture are good alternatives. PCR, xenodiagnosis, and circulating-antigen detection are available only in specialized laboratories. The relationship with low levels of CD4+ cells conditions the clinical presentation and evolution of disease. Most patients have visceral leishmaniasis, but asymptomatic, cutaneous, mucocutaneous, diffuse cutaneous, and post-kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis can be produced by L. infantum. The digestive and respiratory tracts are frequently parasitized. The course of coinfection is marked by a high relapse rate. There is a lack of randomized prospective treatment trials; therefore, coinfected patients are treated by conventional regimens. Prophylactic therapy is suggested to be helpful in preventing relapses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biomarkers
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques
  • HIV / immunology
  • HIV / pathogenicity
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Leishmania / immunology
  • Leishmania / pathogenicity
  • Leishmaniasis / complications*
  • Leishmaniasis / diagnosis
  • Leishmaniasis / drug therapy
  • Leishmaniasis / epidemiology
  • Mediterranean Region


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Biomarkers