South Sudan Faces Visceral Leishmaniasis Outbreak

South Sudan is currently facing a serve outbreak of visceral Leishmaniasis, one of the most pernicious of the neglected tropical diseases. It can be found from Afghanistan to Sub-Saharan Africa. It causes fevers, weakness, and then death in almost 100% of cases if untreated. It is spread by sand flies, often with stray dogs as the reservoir of disease.

Doctors without Borders reports that it is seeing eight times the normal number of cases of visceral leishmaniasis. They are focuses along a narrow belt of South Sudan that hosts large populations of sand flies. The current outbreak has most likely been triggered by 2010’s severe rates of malnutrition, which weakens the immune system and leaves people vulnerable to the infection.

This outbreak is frightening for reasons beyond the current number of infections. South Sudan is going to start receiving returned refugees any day now, in preparation for the independence referendum on January. People are coming home so they can vote, and they’ve spent years out of the country, losing their immunity to visceral leishmaniasis. They will be especially susceptible to infection, at a time when it is spreading fast.

(photo credit: MSF)