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(VL) is a chronic parasitic infection that infects approximately
400 000 individuals annually, with a predilection towards early childhood.
AIMS—To study the epidemiology of VL in childhood.
METHODS—VL is endemic in Malta, a small archipelago of islands in the centre of the Mediterranean with a total population approaching half a million. Notification of human cases of leishmaniasis is compulsory. Case records of all 81 paediatric patients with VL between 1980 and 1998 were analysed.
RESULTS—The annual incidence of VL declined for all cases of VL, and declined significantly for paediatric cases (p = 0.01). For 1994to 1998, the overall incidence of VL was 0.9 per 100 000 total population and the paediatric incidence was 2.5 per 100 000 population. Median age at presentation was 34 months. Common features at presentation were splenomegaly, hepatomegaly, fever, and pancytopenia with high lymphocyte and monocyte counts. The diagnostic sensitivity of isolated immunofluorescent antibody testing was equivalent to bone marrow aspiration (95%). Blood transfusions for anaemia were required in 93% of patients. Eleven per cent had intercurrent infections. All patients were cured, and were initially treated with intravenous sodium stibogluconate. Defervescence occurred after a median of six days of treatment, and patients continued to be treated on a day case basis. Nine relapsers were retreated with sodium stibogluconate, achieving a cure rate of 94%, but five patients required additional drug therapy. There were no permanent sequelae associated with VL or its treatment.
CONCLUSIONS—The decreased incidence is attributed to the eradication of stray dogs which are the disease reservoir.