Background: Visceral leishmaniasis (VL), due to Leishmania infantum, is a persistent intracellular parasitic infection transmitted by the bite of infected sand flies. Symptomatic VL has been reported in U.S. soldiers with Iraq deployment. Untreated symptomatic VL can be fatal; asymptomatic VL (AVL) may establish a lifelong risk of reactivation. We report prevalence and AVL risk factors in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) deployers during 2002-11. Methods: Healthy soldiers exposed to VL endemic areas in Iraq and 50 controls who never traveled to endemic regions were recruited through military healthcare facilities (2015-17). Responses to a risk factor survey and blood samples were obtained. Leishmania research diagnostics utilized included enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), rk39 test strips, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and interferon gamma release (IGRA) assays. Statistical analyses included Fisher exact test, Pearson χ2 test, Mann-Whitney U test, and logistic regression. Results: 200 deployed subjects were enrolled, mostly males (84.0%), of white ethnicity (79.0%), and median age 41 (range 24-61) years. 64% were seropositive for Phlebotomus alexandri saliva antibodies. Prevalence of AVL (any positive test result) was 39/200 (19.5%, 95% confidence interval 14.4%-25.8%). Two (1.0%) PCR, 10 (5%) ELISA, and 28 (14%) IGRA samples were positive. Travel to Ninewa governorate increased risk for AVL (P =. 01). Conclusion: AVL was identified in 19.5% of OIF deployers; travel to northwest Iraq correlated with infection. Further studies are needed to inform risk for reactivation VL in US veterans and to target additional blood safety and surveillance measures.
- US soldiers
- visceral leishmaniasis