Background: Nearly 1300 cases of leishmaniasis have been identified in American military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The symptoms of this disease can range from a mild, self-limiting cutaneous infection to a deadly visceral infection and are not prevented by chemoprophylaxis or immunization. Effective treatments, however, are available. The disease-causing parasite is spread through the bite of the female sand fly. Although the disease occurs in both the Old World and the New World, the parasite species differ between the hemispheres. The large number of cases in military veterans has caused some concern that Old World, temperate-adapted parasite species could be introduced into the native sand fly populations of American military facilities where veterans of the current conflicts return following their deployments. This paper reports part of a larger study to analyze the risk of such an accidental importation. Four potential habitats on two large Army facilities in the Southeast United States were surveyed to determine relative sand fly density. The National Land Cover Map was used to provide sand fly density prediction maps by habitat.

Results: Sand fly density was significantly higher in deciduous forest and even higher at the interface between forest and open grassland. The evergreen forest and agricultural fields supported very low densities. On Fort Campbell, KY, the percentage of land covered by suitable habitat was very high. A sand fly density prediction map identified large tracts of land where infected individuals would be at higher risk of exposure to sand fly bites, resulting in an increased risk of introducing the parasite to a native insect population. On Fort Bragg, NC, however, commercial farming of long leaf pine reduced the percentage of the land covered in vegetation suitable for the support of sand flies. The risk of introducing an exotic Leishmania spp. on Fort Bragg, therefore, is considered to be much lower than on Fort Campbell.

Conclusion: A readily available land cover product can be used at the regional level to identify areas of sand fly habitat where human populations may be at higher risk of exposure. The sand fly density prediction maps can be used to direct further surveillance, insect control, or additional patient monitoring of potentially infected soldiers.


Public Health and Sports Medicine

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© 2008 The authors. licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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International Journal of Health Geographics