What Is Black Fever?

Black fever can be spread through blood transfusions.
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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2014
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Black fever, which is also known as leishmaniasis, is a parasitic disease transmitted to humans through the bite of the sand fly. Only female sand flies can transmit the leishmania parasites to people, and in addition to black fever, the organisms can cause a large variety of different infections, including an illness involving severe skin lesions. If infected individuals aren't given any treatment, this disease is usually fatal. The disease is generally more common among poorer populations of the world, especially in countries where modern medicine is generally harder to come by.

The most common symptom is a lengthy fever that can last weeks or months. Patients may also lose their appetite and may suffer weight loss as a result. People often become fatigued, and they may develop anemia. In the later stages, the patient's skin may start to darken, and they may begin losing their hair. The spleen and liver often become enlarged, and some patients suffer with diarrhea and vomiting, especially younger children.

If left untreated, the general prognosis for leishmaniasis is usually grim. Patients will often die within a couple of years. Eventually, the disease can take a toll on a person’s immune system, damaging it to the point where the individual's body cannot defend against simple bacterial infections. If people wait until the later stages before seeking treatment, it is often too late for doctors to do anything.

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Treatment involves the use of special medications with an ingredient called antimony. This compound has strong anti-bacterial properties, and it is helpful in fighting off the black fever parasite. Sometimes treatment may also involve long-term hospitalization, with the patient receiving intravenous medication and feeding. In severe cases, it is not uncommon for the individual’s spleen to be removed surgically.

This illness is not easily spread from person to person, but certain human behaviors and modern technologies have made direct transmission more likely. It is possible for it to be spread by blood-to-blood contact, so intravenous drug users can transmit the parasitic disease amongst each other, and it can also be spread through blood transfusions. Another problem that has made leishmaniasis worse in recent years is the way it interacts with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Patients with asymptomatic leishmaniasis can become symptomatic when they also have AIDS, and people with AIDS are also more susceptible to contracting the infection in the first place.

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burcidi
Post 3

@turquoise-- As far as I know, there are two types of leishmaniasis viruses. One is cutaneous which occurs on the skin and the other is internal which is what causes black fever.

So not everyone who gets infected with leishmaniasis will develop black fever. But black fever is definitely way more dangerous than cutaneous leishmaniasis which is easily treatable. Although both have complications if they're not diagnosed early on.

If there is a threat of leishmaniasis for pets in the US, it's most likely cutaneous. And I don't think that cutaneous nor black fever is a threat for people in North America.

bear78
Post 2

@turquoise-- I'm not sure if the vaccine is available. But I do remember reading an article about it last year. It was talking about a leishmaniasis vaccine being developed in Portugal for dogs. Chances are, it is available but I'm sure it would require several vaccinations and might cost a bit.

Just ask your vet if black fever is a concern in your area. I highly doubt it, but then again, I'm not a veterinarian. The only time I heard about black fever was when I lived in South America for a short time in my college years. There was a breakout of it in the towns near the jungles in Costa Rica where sand flies were very common. But it came under control very quickly and I don't think it has happened again since.

turquoise
Post 1
I've heard that in the West, it's uncommon for people to have black fever but pets actually do get infected more than we realize. And very rarely, a pet could get his or her owner infected.

I don't think that we have any sand flies where we live but I'm still worried. I have three dogs and they mean the world to me. I wouldn't want any of them to get infected with this virus which would put me at risk too.

I'm going to ask the vet at our next visit, but does anyone know if there is a leishmaniasis vaccination available for pets?

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