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Open Access Research article

An outbreak investigation of visceral leishmaniasis among residents of Dharan town, eastern Nepal, evidence for urban transmission of Leishmania donovani

Surendra Uranw12*, Epco Hasker2, Lalita Roy1, Filip Meheus2, Murari Lal Das1, Narayan Raj Bhattarai1, Suman Rijal1 and Marleen Boelaert2

Author Affiliations

1 B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, Ghopa, 56700, Dharan, Nepal

2 Department of Public Health, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:21  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-21

Published: 18 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is a predominantly rural disease, common in the low lands of eastern Nepal. Since 1997 VL cases have also been reported among residents of the city of Dharan. Our main research objective was to find out whether there had been local transmission of VL inside the city.

Methods

We conducted an outbreak investigation including a case–control study; cases were all urban residents treated for VL between 2000 and 2008 at BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, a university hospital in the city. For each case, we selected four random controls, with no history of previous VL; frequency-matched for age. Cases and controls were subjected to a structured interview on the main exposures of interest and potential confounders; a binominal multilevel model was used to analyze the data. We also collected entomological data from all neighborhoods of the city.

Results

We enrolled 115 VL patients and 448 controls. Cases were strongly clustered, 70% residing in 3 out of 19 neighborhoods. We found a strong association with socio-economic status, the poorest being most at risk. Housing was a risk factor independent from socio-economic status, most at risk were those living in thatched houses without windows. ‘Sleeping upstairs’ and ‘sleeping on a bed’ were strongly protective, OR of 0.08 and 0.25 respectively; proximity to a case was a strong risk factor (OR 3.79). Sand flies were captured in all neighborhoods; in collections from several neighborhoods presence of L. donovani could be demonstrated by PCR.

Conclusion

The evidence found in this study is consistent with transmission of anthroponotic VL within the city. The vector P. argentipes and the parasite L. donovani have both been identified inside the town. These findings are highly relevant for policy makers; in VL endemic areas appropriate surveillance and disease control measures must be adopted not only in rural areas but in urban areas as well.

Keywords:
Kala-azar; Visceral leishmaniasis; Risk factor; Outbreak; Disease transmission; Sand fly infection; Nepal