Visceral leishmaniasis is transmitted by biting phlebotomine flies (aka sand flies). The disease is spreading to urban areas in parts of Brazil. Leishmaniasis is a neglected disease in countries such as Brazil because the disease mostly affects poor people with limited access to health care professionals.
The primary agent that causes visceral leishmaniasis, Leishmania infantum, can infect dogs. Infected dogs may be asymptomatic and therefore go untreated. A fly that bites an infected dog can transmit the disease to a nearby human. This makes dogs ownership a risk factor for the disease.
Leishmaniasis can be cured with antibiotics. If left untreated, it can cause severe medical problems that are potentially lethal. Prevention efforts typically focus on 2 points in the transmission cycle. The first first is to reduce the population of phlebotomine flies. The second is the use of personal insect repellents to prevent the flies from biting people. People with dogs that go into areas with uncontrolled sand flies should take extra precautions to prevent phlebotomine fly bites.