Longitudinal Study of Transmission in Households with Visceral Leishmaniasis, Asymptomatic Infections and PKDL in Highly Endemic Villages in Bihar, India

Citation: Das VNR, Pandey RN, Siddiqui NA, Chapman LAC, Kumar V, Pandey K, et al. (2016) Longitudinal Study of Transmission in Households with Visceral Leishmaniasis, Asymptomatic Infections and PKDL in Highly Endemic Villages in Bihar, India. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 10(12): e0005196. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0005196
Published: December 14, 2016

Abstract
Background: Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL) is a neglected tropical disease that afflicts some of the poorest populations in the world including people living in the Bihar state of India. Due to efforts from local governments, NGOs and international organizations, the number of VL cases has declined in recent years. Despite this progress, the reservoir for transmission remains to be clearly defined since it is unknown what role post kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL) and asymptomatic infections play in transmission. This information is vital to establish effective surveillance and monitoring to sustainably eliminate VL.
Methodology/Principal Findings: We performed a longitudinal study over a 24-month period to examine VL transmission and seroconversion in households with VL, PKDL and asymptomatic infections in the Saran and Muzaffarpur districts of Bihar. During the initial screening of 5,144 people in 16 highly endemic villages, 195 cases of recently treated VL, 116 healthy rK39 positive cases and 31 PKDL cases were identified. Approximately half of the rK39-positive healthy cases identified during the initial 6-month screening period were from households (HHs) where a VL case had been identified. During the 18-month follow-up period, seroconversion of family members in the HHs with VL cases, PKDL cases, and rK39-positive individuals was similar to control HHs. Therefore, seroconversion was highest in HHs closest to the time of VL disease of a household member and there was no evidence of higher transmission in households with PKDL or healthy rK39-positive HHs. Moreover, within the PKDL HHs, (the initial 31 PKDL cases plus an additional 66 PKDL cases), there were no cases of VL identified during the initial screen or the 18-month follow-up. Notably, 23% of the PKDL cases had no prior history of VL suggesting that infection resulting directly in PKDL is more common than previously estimated.
Conclusions/Significance: These observations argue that acute VL cases represent the major reservoir for transmission in these villages and early identification and treatment of VL cases should remain a priority for VL elimination. We were unable to obtain evidence that transmission occurs in HHs with a PKDL case.

Author Summary: Visceral leishmaniasis (also known as kala-azar) caused by infection with L. donovani is a deadly parasitic disease that afflicts some of world’s poorest populations, including the people of the northern Bihar State of India. Once transmitted to a human by an infected sandfly, the L. donovani parasite migrates from the site of the sandfly bite throughout the reticuloendothelial system, resulting in high levels of infection in the spleen, liver and bone marrow that eventually lead to organ failure and death if not treated effectively. India, Nepal and Bangladesh are currently engaged in a program to eliminate visceral leishmaniasis, principally through early case detection, treatment and vector control. As humans are the only reservoir for L. donovani, it is necessary to understand how the disease is transmitted and specifically what role acute visceral leishmaniasis (VL) cases, asymptomatic infections and post kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL) cases play in transmission. We therefore performed a study to determine seroconversion for antibodies against the L. donovani rK39 antigen as a surrogate for transmission in households with VL cases, asymptomatic infections and PKDL cases in 16 highly endemic villages over a 2-year period in Bihar, India. We observed that most transmission occurred in the VL households and further that it occurred closest to the time of acute disease. We were unable to confirm that transmission occurred in the households with either asymptomatic infections or PKDL cases. These observations argue that active surveillance to diagnose and treat VL cases as soon as possible to reduce transmission should remain a priority for VL elimination.

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