Somali sandflies spread sickness

HONG KONG - A disease transmitted by sandflies that can lead to death if untreated has become more prevalent in war-torn Somalia.

HONG KONG - A disease transmitted by sandflies that can lead to death if untreated has become more prevalent in war-torn Somalia.

Doctors staffing a Doctors without Borders health clinic in Huddur observed that yearly admissions for visceral leishmaniasis jumped sevenfold to 1002 last year from an average of 140 yearlybetween 2002 to 2005.

In the latest issue of the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, they said the figures may just be a fraction of what is actually happening.

"Though the reported number of patients treated gives an underestimate of the real prevalence, the trend in case of detection clearly shows a sharp increase during the past 16-month period to December last year," they wrote.

The disease is found in 88 countries and 35million people live in these areas.

Highly adaptable, the culprit parasite, Leishmania donovani, can survive in terrain varying from rainforests in Central and South America to deserts in West Asia.

There are 500000 new cases of visceral leishmaniasis a year and more than 90percent of them occur in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan, and Brazil. It is endemic in east African countries.

It causes fever, weight loss, anaemia and swelling of the spleen and liver and death if left untreated.

Like Aids, it weakens the immune system and the patient is usually killed directly by other opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, TB and dysentery.

Though the researchers did not give firm reasons for the increase in cases in Somalia, they said more research must be done to control the proliferation of sandflies, which breed on waste land and in rubbish.

"Insecticidal application to termite mounds could be a measure of targeted control in the most affected villages." - Reuters

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