Natural transmission of Leishmania infantum through experimentally infected Phlebotomus perniciosus highlights the virulence of Leishmania parasites circulating in the human visceral leishmaniasis outbreak in Madrid, Spain.

Inés Martín-Martín1, Maribel Jiménez1*, Estela González1, César Eguiluz2 and Ricardo Molina1*

* Corresponding authors: Maribel Jiménez - Ricardo Molina

Author Affiliations

Unidad de Entomología Médica, Servicio de Parasitología, Centro Nacional de Microbiología, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Ctra. Majadahonda-Pozuelo s/n, Majadahonda, Madrid, 28220, Spain

Unidad de Veterinaria, Centro Nacional de Microbiología, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Ctra. Majadahonda-Pozuelo s/n, Majadahonda, Madrid, 28220, Spain

Published: 9 December 2015


A human leishmaniasis outbreak is occurring in the Madrid region, Spain, with the parasite and vector involved being Leishmania infantum and Phlebotomus perniciosus respectively. The aim of this study was to investigate the virulence of L. infantum isolates from the focus using a natural transmission model. Hamsters were infected by intraperitoneal inoculation (IP) or by bites of sand flies experimentally infected with L. infantum isolates obtained from P. perniciosus collected in the outbreak area (IPER/ES/2012/BOS1FL1 and IPER/ES/2012/POL2FL6) and a well characterized L. infantum strain JPCM5 (MCAN/ES/98/LLM-877). Hamster infections were monitored by clinical examination, serology, culture, parasite burden, Giemsa-stained imprints, PCR, histopathology and xenodiagnostic studies. Establishment of infection of L. infantum was achieved with the JPCM5 strain and outbreak isolates by both P. perniciosus infective bites or IP route. However, high virulence of BOS1FL1 and POL2FL6 isolates was highlighted by the clinical outcome of disease, high parasite detection in spleen and liver, high parasitic loads and positivity of Leishmania serology. Transmission by bite of POL2FL6 infected flies generated a slower progression of clinical disease than IP infection, but both groups were infective to P. perniciosus by xenodiagnosis at 2 months post-infection. Conversely, hamsters inoculated with JPCM5 were not infective to sand flies. Histopathology studies confirmed the wide spread of POL2FL6 parasites to several organs. A visceral leishmaniasis model that mimics the natural transmission in nature allowed us to highlight the high virulence of isolates that are circulating in the focus. These findings contribute to a better understanding of the outbreak epidemiology.


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