INTRODUCTION: Post-kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL) is a skin manifestation that is a late clinical outcome of visceral leishmaniasis (VL). Its presentation is similar to leprosy, and the differential diagnosis is not always easy. In VL endemic rural areas of Bihar, India, both infectious diseases co-exist. This observational study aimed to determine the prevalence and distribution of both conditions in an area that had until recently been highly endemic for VL.
METHODS: We conducted a door-to-door survey in an area that belongs to the Health and Demographic Surveillance Site (HDSS) of Muzaffarpur, Bihar, India. Within the HDSS we selected the villages that had reported the highest numbers of VL cases in preceding years. All consenting household members were screened for skin conditions, and minor conditions were treated on the spot. Upon completion of screening activities at the level of a few villages, a dermatology clinic ("skin camp") was conducted to which suspect leprosy and PKDL patients and other patients with skin conditions requiring expert advice were referred. We studied the association between distance from an index case of leprosy and the probability of disease in the neighborhood by fitting a Poisson model.
RESULTS: We recorded a population of 33,319, out of which 25,686 (77.1%) were clinically screened. Participation in skin camps was excellent. Most common conditions were fungal infections, eczema, and scabies. There were three PKDL patients and 44 active leprosy patients, equivalent to a prevalence rate of leprosy of 17.1 per 10,000. Two out of three PKDL patients had a history of VL. Leprosy patients were widely spread across villages, but within villages, we found strong spatial clustering, with incidence rate ratios of 6.3 (95% C.I. 1.9-21.0) for household members and 3.6 (95% C.I. 1.3-10.2) for neighbors within 25 meters, with those living at more than 100 meters as the reference category.
DISCUSSION: Even in this previously highly VL endemic area, PKDL is a rare condition. Nevertheless, even a single case can trigger a new VL outbreak. Leprosy is also a rare disease, but current prevalence is over 17 times the elimination threshold proclaimed by WHO. Both diseases require continued surveillance. Active case finding for leprosy can be recommended among household members and close neighbors of leprosy patients but would not be feasible for entire populations. Periodic skin camps may be a feasible and affordable alternative.