Spread concerns experts
A flesh-eating disease is spreading in some countries in the Middle East after originating in Syria, infectious disease experts say.
The disease, known as cutaneous leishmaniasis, has infected refugees trapped in conflict zones in Syria and Iraq, causing large open sores that can lead to scarring and permanent disfigurement, according to researchers.
“The disease has been in Syria for centuries, and many other countries in the Middle East, but with the start of the civil war, by 2010 and 2011, the number of cases started to rise, because the health system started to collapse,” said Dr Alvaro AcostaSerrano, who carried out research on the disease for Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
“We estimate that more than 200,000 people may be infected at the moment in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, southern Turkey, northern Iraq and Israel,” he said.
There is no vaccine for the disease, which can only be treated with the drug sodium stibogluconate (SSG), which is only available by injection. By Shoshana Kedem
“The good news is that the disease is treatable if we get more awareness, more funding and more support for the health workers and the NGOs to deal with the disease, then that will minimise the impact of it spreading,” said Acosta-Serrano.
There have been cases reported in India and also in Saudi Arabia, but nowhere else in the GCC, he said.
“We have all the ingredients for the cooking recipe here,” said Dr Stefan Weber, a microbiologist consultant at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi.
“Domestic animals and some of the rodents we have here could also harbour the illness and transmit it to the sand flies,” Weber said, outlining the typical cycle of sandflies infecting humans, and humans then passing it onto other sandflies.
“Just because we haven’t seen any cases now doesn’t mean we won’t see any in the future, it just means we need to be vigilant,” he added.