INTRODUCTION: Abdominal ultrasound (US) is increasingly used in the diagnostic work-up of infectious diseases, but studies on its diagnostic value in visceral leishmaniasis (VL) are lacking. US could help to identify complications of spleen aspiration (SA). We aimed to assess the diagnostic value of US and the evolution of findings after VL treatment; the incidence and degree of splenic injury; and the pain perceived during SA.
METHODOLOGY/RESULT: We conducted a cross-sectional prospective study at the Leishmaniasis Research and Treatment Center, Gondar, Ethiopia between Oct 2017 and Dec 2018. We enrolled VL suspects undergoing tissue aspiration; US were conducted before and after SA, and at the end of VL treatment. Splenic injury was graded using the American association of surgery trauma injury scale (grade 1-4). The pain perceived during SA was graded using a visual analogue scale. Out of 392 VL suspects, 192 (49%) were confirmed VL cases. The median age was 25 years (IQR 21-30). Massive splenomegaly and hepatomegaly were the most common US findings. Splenic nodules were seen in 3.7% of the 190 VL cases and 1.5% of the 197 non-VL cases. Ascites was more common in VL (16.4%) than in non-VL cases (9.1%). The frequency of US abnormalities decreased with treatment. None of the US findings had sufficient sensitivity and specificity to justify its use as a diagnostic test. US detected splenic injury in four of the 318 patients who had post-SA US. All four patients remained clinically stable. Pain was perceived as moderate or severe in 51% of patients.
CONCLUSION: The diagnostic value of abdominal US for VL was low but found useful to detect subclinical splenic injury. SA caries a risk of splenic injury and was perceived painful by most. Further research on less invasive diagnostic tools is needed.