What is leishmaniasis?

sand fly

Leishmaniasis is disease caused by a parasite. Sand flies can spread this parasite to people when they bite them.

Two common forms of leishmaniasis are cutaneous and visceral.

The most common symptom of cutaneous leishmaniasis is skin sores that can change in size and appearance over time. The sores may be closed, like a lump or a bump, or open (ulcer). Some people have swollen glands near the sores.

Common symptoms of visceral leishmaniasis are fever and weight loss. People with visceral leishmaniasis can also have an enlarged spleen and liver, low red blood cell count (anemia), low white blood cell count (leukopenia), and low platelet count (thrombocytopenia).

Some people with leishmaniasis never have symptoms.

Who is at risk?

Sand flies are found in some parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Southern Europe, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Travelers going to these areas are at risk of being bitten by sand flies and getting infected.

See if leishmaniasis is a concern at your destination.

What can travelers do to prevent leishmaniasis?

There is no vaccine or medicine that prevents leishmaniasis. Travelers can protect themselves from infection by preventing sand fly bites.

Travelers can take the following steps to prevent sand fly bites:

  • Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
  • Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms.
    • Keep in mind that sand flies are much smaller than mosquitoes and therefore can get through smaller holes.
    • If you are not sleeping in a well-screened or air-conditioned area, use a bed net and tuck it under your mattress. If possible, use a bed net that has been soaked in or sprayed with a pyrethroid-containing insecticide. The same treatment can be applied to screens, curtains, sheets, and clothing (clothing should be retreated after five washings).
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents). You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself:
    • Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See the product information to find out how long the protection will last.
    • If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
    • Do not use permethrin directly on skin.
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. Find an EPA-registered insect repellent that’s right for you.
  • Always follow product directions and reapply as directed.
  • If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen first and insect repellent second.
  • When using insect repellent on children:
    • Do not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) on children under 3 years old.
    • Do not apply insect repellent to a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, cuts, or irritated skin.
    • Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.


If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider, and tell them about your travel. Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.

If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care During Travel.


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