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Demographic characteristics and prevalence of asymptomatic Leishmania donovani infection in migrant workers working in an endemic area in Northwest Ethiopia

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  • Mulat Yimer
  • Yegnasew Takele
  • Endalew Yizengaw
  • Endalkachew Nibret
  • Petra Sumova
  • Petr Volf
  • Gizachew Yismaw
  • Michael Alehegn
  • Aileen Rowan
  • Ingrid Müller
  • James A. Cotton
  • Lloyd A. C. Chapman
  • Pascale Kropf
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>9/04/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>Frontiers in Epidemiology
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Introduction: Visceral leishmaniasis (VL), a neglected tropical disease that causes substantial morbidity and mortality, is a serious health problem in Ethiopia. Infections are caused by Leishmania (L.) donovani parasites. Most individuals remain asymptomatic, but some develop VL, which is generally fatal if not treated. We identified the area of Metema-Humera in Northwest Ethiopia as a setting in which we could follow migrant workers when they arrived in an endemic area. The demographic characteristics of this population and factors associated with their risk of asymptomatic infection are poorly characterised. Methods: We divided our cohort into individuals who visited this area for the first time (first comers, FC) and those who had already been in this area (repeat comers, RC). We followed them from the beginning (Time 1, T1) to the end of the agricultural season (Time 2, T2), performing tests for sand fly bite exposure (anti-sand fly saliva antibody ELISA) and serology for Leishmania infection (rK39 rapid diagnostic test and the direct agglutination test) at each time point and collecting information on risk factors for infection. Results: Our results show that most migrant workers come from non-endemic areas, are male, young (median age of 20 years) and are farmers or students. At T1, >80% of them had been already exposed to sand fly bites, as shown by the presence of anti-saliva antibodies. However, due to seasonality of sand flies there was no difference in exposure between FC and RC, or between T1 and T2. The serology data showed that at T1, but not at T2, a significantly higher proportion of RC were asymptomatic. Furthermore, 28.6% of FC became asymptomatic between T1 and T2. Over the duration of this study, one FC and one RC developed VL. In multivariable logistic regression of asymptomatic infection at T1, only age and the number of visits to Metema/Humera were significantly associated with asymptomatic infection. Conclusion: A better understanding of the dynamics of parasite transmission and the risk factors associated with the development of asymptomatic infections and potentially VL will be essential for the development of new strategies to prevent leishmaniasis.