Epidemiology of imported leishmaniasis in Italy: Implications for a European endemic country

Trentina Di Muccio, Aldo Scalone, Antonella Bruno, Massimo Marangi, Romualdo Grande, Orlando Armignacco, Luigi Gradoni, Marina Gramiccia

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In the past decade, the number of imported leishmaniasis cases has increased in countries of Western Europe. The trend is associated with increasing travels, ecotourism activity, military operations and immigration. While in endemic countries leishmaniasis is usually well diagnosed, accurate patient history and parasite identification are necessary to distinguish between autochthonous and imported cases. This is particularly important, as new Leishmania species/genotypes may be introduced and transmitted by local phlebotomine vectors without appropriate surveillance, with unpredictable consequences. We report on the surveillance of imported leishmaniasis performed by the LeishmaniaIdentification Reference Centre of Rome from 1986 through 2012, involving health care centres from 16/20 Italian regions. Suspected imported cases were analyzed and conclusions were based on clinical, epidemiological and diagnostic findings. Over the years, different parasite identification methods were employed, including MultiLocus Enzyme Electrophoresis and molecular techniques combining disease diagnosis (SSU rDNA nested-PCR) and Leishmania typing (nuclear repetitive sequence and ITS-1 PCR-RFLPs). A total of 105 imported cases were recorded (annual range: 0-20) of which 36 were visceral (VL) (16 HIV-coinfections) and 69 cutaneous (CL) cases; 85 cases (52 CL) were from the Old World and 20 (17 CL) from the New World. Eight Leishmania species were identified, of which 7 were exotic to Italy. VL importation until 1995 was associated with the spread of Mediterranean Leishmania-HIV co-infections in early 1990s. Following the introduction of HAART treatment, such cases became occasional in Italians but relatively frequent among immigrants. In contrast, a steady increase of CL cases was observed from different areas of the Old and New Worlds, that in recent years included mainly immigrants 'visiting friends and relatives' and Italian tourists. This positive trend likely depends on better diagnosis and reporting; however, we suspect that many CL cases remained unrecognized. Given the relatively low incidence of leishmaniasis importation, the risk of introduction of exotic parasites appears limited, although the detection of anthroponotic species requires attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0129418
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 26 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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