JERUSALEM – There is a risk that Middle Eastern refugees entering the U.S. could be infected with a flesh-eating disease that is sweeping across Syria.
Health agencies confirmed that Syrian refugees have transported leishmaniasis to Lebanon and Turkey, where it has been difficult to manage and treat.
Compounding the problem, patients can be infected with the parasitic disease without showing symptoms for weeks, months, or even years, and an asymptomatic patient most likely doesn’t know that he or she is a carrier.
This means the health screening process for refugees could miss the disease entirely.
Breitbart Jerusalem spoke with healthcare experts, including an epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC’s Immigrant, Refugee, and Migrant Health Branch, which is responsible for guiding the medical screening of the Syrian refugees seeking to enter the U.S.
Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by protozoan parasites. It is spread almost entirely by sandflies, including those present in the U.S.
There are three main types of the disease: cutaneous, mucocutaneous, and visceral leishmaniasis.
Cutaneous is the most common form among Syrians. It manifests in skin sores that typically develop within a few weeks or months of a sand fly bite. The sores can initially appear as bumps or nodules and may evolve into volcano-like ulcers.
Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis causes skin ulcers like the cutaneous form, as well as mucosal ulcers that usually damage the nose and mouth.
Visceral leishmaniasis, which has also been found among Syrian refugees, is the most serious form and can be fatal. It damages internal organs, usually the spleen and liver, and also affects bone marrow.
Refugees transmit to Lebanon, Turkey; threat to Europe, U.S.
Last year, the CDC published a study of a September 2012 outbreak among Syrian refugees. The investigation found:
Fifty-nine percent of patients had more than one of the following: disease compromising the function of vital sensory organs (eye, ear, nose, and mouth) (27%); lesions of greater than 5 cm in diameter (49%); disfiguring facial lesions (37%); special forms, such as sporotrichoid or lymphangietic with satellite lesions (9%); and lesions present for more than 12 months’ duration.
Earlier this month, the news media hyped a story that the Islamic State was causing the spread of leishmaniasis, because – as the U.K.’s Mirror newspaper put it - militants were “slaughtering innocent people and dumping their bodies in the street.”
Leishmaniasis has been spreading like wildfire in Syria since the health system collapsed in rebel-held territories in 2011. By 2012, there were already 52,982 documented cases of the disease in Syria