Years of civil war in Syria, with the Islamic State in the mix, is resulting in the spread of a disfiguring, flesh-eating tropical disease across the Middle East—and potentially into Europe.
As millions flee from war-torn areas and medical services are often in disarray, leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease, is spreading by bites from infected sand flies. The flies in turn pick up the protozoan parasites from biting infected people or animals.
Severe scarring, damage to internal organs, eating out of the mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and throat, breathing and swallowing problems—even death can occur, depending on the form the disease takes. Antibiotics can be used, but with many medical personnel killed and hospitals destroyed, there is little hope for correct diagnosis and treatment.
The disease had been contained to Syria, particularly to regions under ISIS control such as Raqqa, Deir al-Zour and Hasakah, but has since spread to countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, eastern Libya and Iraq.
Malnutrition, overcrowded refugee camps, bombed-out buildings and lack of fresh water contribute to the spread of the disease by the flies, which are common in the hot, humid climate—and not just in the Mideast. Besides the Mideast, the disease can be found in Africa, parts of Latin America, Asia and Texas.
The Daily Mail in the UK reports:
“It had previously been claimed by the Kurdish Red Crescent that the spread of the disease had also been caused by ISIS dumping rotting corpses on the streets. This has been refuted by the scientists at the School of Tropical Medicines.
Between 2000 and 2012, there were only six reported cases of the disease in Lebanon.
But in 2013 alone there were 1,033 cases reported, of which 96 per cent occurred among the displaced Syrian refugees, according to the Lebanese Ministry of Health.
Speaking to MailOnline, Dr Waleed Al-Salem, one of the authors of the research was carried out in the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: ‘It’s a very bad situation. The disease has spread dramatically in Syria, but also into countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and even into southern Europe with refugees coming in.
‘There are thousands of cases in the region but it is still underestimated because no one can count the exact number of people affected.
‘When people are bitten by a sand-fly – which are tiny and smaller than a mosquito – it can take anything between two to six months to have the infection.
‘So someone might have picked it up in Syria but then they may have fled into Lebanon or Turkey, or even into Europe as they seek refuge.’