Leishmaniosis is a parasitic disease transmitted to both humans and animals by bites from infected sand flies. It occurs on almost all continents. But it is particularly a problem in Southern Europe where an estimated 2.5 million dogs are infected with the parasite and Latin America. In Italy, the disease has traditionally been endemic in the South but meanwhile is spreading North. It means that for vets and pet owners across Italy the threat of leishmaniosis is a very real one.
It is almost six years ago when Luca Di Florio found his dog Kira becoming somewhat lethargic and he also discovered skin lesions on her. He immediately brought the German shepherd to the veterinary clinic of Dr. Claudio Amore in Cava dei Tirreni, 30 km far from Naples. Diagnosis, she was infected with leishmaniosis. A shock to the airline pilot. “I have a very close relationship with Kira because I found her on the street myself and brought her into the garden and looked after her from the beginning.”
The fast recognition and action has saved Kira from worse knows Dr. Amore. “The disease can be fatal if not treated because it primarily damages the kidney and the bone marrow in more advanced cases.” The south of Italy is a hyper endemic area for leishmaniosis and the treatment for Dr. Amore routine. Almost every day pet owners with infected dogs come to his clinic.
Dogs are considered the main reservoir of Leishmania infantum, the parasite that's causing leishmaniosis, and one of the preferred sources of food for sand flies. Depending on the individual immune response of the dog, the disease can cause very different clinical signs including swollen lymph nodes, skin lesions, weight loss and lethargy, and if left untreated, can even cause death.
Due to climate change, increased pet travelling and adoption of dogs from endemic countries, leishmaniosis is spreading globally and the number of cases in areas that traditionally have been free of the disease is on the rise. The increase in pet ownership and growth of urban populations has compounded the problem. Thus infected sandflies find dogs easier to which they can transmit the disease.
So what can be done to protect our pets, and reduce the risk of infection not just in dogs but in humans as well?
Professor Oliva from the University of Naples has a very clear recommendation for pet owners when it comes to the continuous protection of their pets through prevention. “The best suggestion that we can give to owners is that every dog must be treated with products that have a repellent effect to prevent them from being bitten. Not only the healthy dogs but also the infected or sick ones because they are a source of the parasite for sand flies.”
Products that have a repellent effect are available in formats that are applied topically to the animal, e.g. spot-ons or collars. They contain active ingredients which spread over the body surface via the lipid layer of the skin. As a result these products act on contact and there is no need to bite and start blood feeding in order to take up the active ingredient.
In addition, these preventative measures not only reduce the risk of infection with leishmaniosis, but also prevents both flea and tick bites via simple contact with the dog’s skin, which are not only a nuisance but can transmit other serious diseases, such as canine babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.
Even though Kira is doing well today, Luca Di Florio knows she could contribute to spreading the disease if bitten by a sand fly. “I am worried about the risk that other animals might contract it, particularly dogs, and in fact I know it's increasing all the time. That's why, in any case, despite the fact she already has the disease, we make her wear a collar to avoid spreading it.”
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