First report of cutaneous leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania donovani in Ethiopia

Gashaw Azanaw Amare, Gebeyaw Getnet Mekonnen, Mekibib Kassa, Ayenew Addisu, Desalegn Adane Kendie, Banchamlak Tegegne, Adugna Abera, Dagimawie Tadesse, Seid Getahun, Yenesew Mihret Wondmagegn, Behailu Merdekios, Mezgebu Silamsaw Asres, Johan van Griensven, Gert Van der Auwera, Saskia van Henten, Myrthe Pareyn

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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BACKGROUND: Leishmaniasis is a common neglected tropical disease in Ethiopia. Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) caused by Leishmania donovani presents in the lowlands, while cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) affects people living in the highlands. Although CL is described as being caused by Leishmania aethiopica, there is also evidence of L. tropica and L. major isolated from a patient, sand flies and potential reservoirs. Information on species causing CL in Ethiopia is patchy, and no nation-wide study has ever been done. Understanding which species are causing CL in Ethiopia can have important implications for patient management and disease prevention.

METHODS: We analyzed stored routine samples and biobanked DNA isolates from previously conducted studies of CL patients from different centers in the north, center and south of Ethiopia. Species typing was performed using ITS-1 PCR with high-resolution melt (HRM) analysis, followed by HSP70 amplicon sequencing on a selection of the samples. Additionally, sociodemographic, clinical and laboratory data of patients were analyzed.

RESULTS: Of the 226 CL samples collected, the Leishmania species could be determined for 105 (45.5%). Leishmania aethiopica was identified in 101 (96.2%) samples from across the country. In four samples originating from Amhara region, northwestern Ethiopia, L. donovani was identified by ITS-1 HRM PCR, of which two were confirmed with HSP70 sequences. While none of these four patients had symptoms of VL, two originated from known VL endemic areas.

CONCLUSIONS: The majority of CL was caused by L. aethiopica, but CL due to L. tropica and L. major cannot be ruled out. Our study is the first to our knowledge to demonstrate CL patients caused by L. donovani in Ethiopia. This should spark future research to investigate where, how and to which extent such transmission takes place, how it differs genetically from L. donovani causing VL and whether such patients can be diagnosed and treated successfully with the currently available tools and drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number457
JournalParasites and Vectors
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Humans
  • Leishmania donovani/genetics
  • Ethiopia/epidemiology
  • Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous/epidemiology
  • Leishmaniasis, Visceral/epidemiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction


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