Epidemiological and clinical trends of visceral leishmaniasis in Portugal: retrospective analysis of cases diagnosed in public hospitals between 2010 and 2020

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Background: Leishmania infantum is endemic in the Mediterranean region, presenting mostly as visceral leishmaniasis (VL). In Portugal, reporting of VL cases to public health authorities is mandatory, but significant underreporting is likely. This study aimed to describe the epidemiological and clinical aspects of the VL cases diagnosed in hospitals of the Portuguese National Health Service (NHS), between 2010 and 2020. Methods: Collaboration was requested to every hospital of the Portuguese NHS in Mainland Portugal. Cases were screened through a search of diagnostic discharge codes or, if not available, by a search of positive laboratory results for Leishmania infection. Sociodemographic and clinical data was retrieved from medical records. Simultaneously, the National Health authority was contacted to request access to data of notified cases of VL between 2010 and 2020. Descriptive, hypothesis testing and multiple binary logistic regression models were performed. Results: A total of 221 VL cases were identified. A significant increase in estimated national incidence was seen in the years after 2016 (P = 0.030). VL was predominantly diagnosed in people living with HIV (PLWH) and in children (representing around 60% of the new cases), but the outcome was generally poorer in non-HIV patients with associated immunosuppression, with significantly lower rates of clinical improvement at 7 (P = 0.003) and 30 days (P = 0.008) after treatment. Atypical presentations, with gastrointestinal and/or respiratory involvement, were seen in 8.5% of VL cases. Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis was diagnosed in 40.0% of children under 5 years of age. Only 49.7% of incident VL cases were reported. Simultaneous involvement of the skin was confirmed in 5.9% of patients. Conclusions: VL presents a continuing threat in Portugal, especially to PLWH and children, and an increasing threat to other immunosuppressed groups. Recent increases in incidence should be closely monitored to allow prompt interventions. Programs to control the disease should focus on providing tools for earlier diagnosis and on reducing underreporting and promoting an integrated surveillance of human and animal disease. These data should be combined with asymptomatic infection and vector information, following a One Health approach. Graphical Abstract: (Figure presented.)

Original languageEnglish
Article number41
JournalInfectious diseases of poverty
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2024


  • Children
  • Leishmania
  • Leishmaniasis
  • People living with HIV
  • Portugal
  • Visceral


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