Objective: To characterize the exposures and practices of U.S. travelers who acquired cutaneous leishmaniasis in the Americas and to highlight problems they encountered in seeking medical care from U.S. physicians.
Design: A retrospective review of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Drug Service records and a telephone survey of patients.
Patients: Fifty-nine civilian U.S. travelers with American cutaneous leishmaniasis for whom the Drug Service released sodium stibogluconate between 1 January 1985 and 30 April 1990; 58 travelers (98%) were interviewed.
Main Measurements: Travel destination, exposure duration, knowledge about leishmaniasis, and time from noticing skin lesions to release of drug.
Results: Overall, travelers acquired leishmaniasis in as many as 14 countries; 33 of 59 travelers (56%) were infected in Mexico or Central America. Twenty-seven travelers (46%) were conducting field studies and 23 (39%) were tourists, visitors, or tour guides. At least 15 persons (26% of the 58 interviewed travelers) were in forested areas for 1 week or less; at least 6 of these persons had a maximum exposure of 2 days. Ten persons (17%) were home at least 1 month before they noticed skin lesions. Patients consulted from one to seven physicians (mean, 2.1 physicians) before leishmaniasis was diagnosed. Overall, the median time from noticing lesions to the release of drug was 112 days (range, 13 to 1022 days); however, the median was only 55 days for 13 patients (22%) unusually knowledgeable about leishmaniasis and was a maximum of 60 days for 16 patients (28%) (including 7 of the 13 unusually knowledgeable patients) who generally consulted physicians exceptionally knowledgeable about infectious and tropical diseases.
Conclusions: Travelers to forested areas in Central America and Texas and their physicians need to be educated about the risk for acquiring leishmaniasis even during short stays; effective preventive measures; and appropriate medical management.