A flesh-eating disease is spreading across the Middle East and could end up in Europe. The ongoing civil war in ISIS-controlled Syria is creating the ideal breeding grounds for the parasitic disease.
Bites from a Phlebotomus sand fly, which carries the protozoan Leishmania parasites, are causing the disease cutaneous leishmaniasis. It causes open sores on the skin that lead to severe scarring.
The disease also causes the nose to bleed. Infected individuals suffer from swallowing and breathing problems. The disease's deadliest form can "eat away" the mucous membranes of the person's throat, mouth and nose. Unchecked severe cases can lead to death.
The squalid war zones in the Middle East are helping the infected sand flies to propagate. The rapid displacement of war refugees also helps spread the disease to other areas.
Moreover, the water shortage as well as lack of doctors and medical facilities leaves infected individuals untreated while many more can end up with undiagnosed cases.
A PLOS editorial published on May 26 revealed the devastating figures of the disease in conflict areas and refugee camps. According to the gathered data, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals in the Middle East infected by cutaneous leishmaniasis.
"The numbers are looking very bad and there's no access to intra-lesional antimony compounds. We're seeing lots of diseases, including leishmaniasi in these conflict zones and we need to ring-fence them or risk another situation like Ebola out of the conflict zones in West Africa in 2014," said the editorial's lead author Peter Hotez.
"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," said editorial co-author Dr. Waleed Al-Salem from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Outside of the war zones and refugee camps, the flesh-eating disease affects many of the world's poorest population. The disease is often linked to poor housing and sanitation, malnutrition and a compromised immune system.
Environmental-related activities such as dam constructions, deforestation and urbanization also play a role in spreading the disease.
According to the World Health Organization, there are about 900,000 to 1.3 million new cases of the disease documented yearly. These cases result in approximately 20,000 to 30,000 deaths every year.
Photo: Michael Wunderli | Flickr