Signs and Symptoms of Leishmaniasis

Key points

  • There are several forms of leishmaniasis.
  • People may or may not experience signs or symptoms.
  • See your healthcare provider if you think you have symptoms of leishmaniasis.


There are several different forms of leishmaniasis. Some people may not experience symptoms. Those who do not experience symptoms have what is called a "silent infection" (without signs or symptoms).

Cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL)

CL is the most common form of leishmaniasis. CL causes skin sores, which typically develop within a few weeks or months after a sand fly bite. The sores

  • Can change in size and appearance over time.
  • May start out as papules (bumps) or nodules (lumps).
  • May go on to become ulcers (similar to the shape of a volcano, with raised edges and a central crater). The ulcers may be covered in a scab or crust.
  • Are usually (but not always) painless.

Some people may have swollen glands near the sores (e.g., under the arm if the sores are on the arm or hand).

Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL)

VL is a very severe form of leishmaniasis that can affect internal organs (usually the spleen, liver, and bone marrow) and can be life threatening.

People with VL usually become sick within months (though it can be years) after they were bit by sand flies.

Those who develop symptoms usually have

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Enlargement (swelling) of the spleen and liver
  • Abnormal blood tests

People may also have

  • Low blood counts
    • Low red blood cell count (anemia)
    • Low white blood cell count (leukopenia)
    • Low platelet count (thrombocytopenia)

Mucosal leishmaniasis (ML)

ML is an aggressive form of CL that can affect the mucous membranes. It is caused by certain types of Leishmania parasites that cause CL in Central and South America and, rarely, other places. Certain types of the parasite might spread from the skin and cause sores in the

  • Mucous membranes of the nose (the most common location)
  • Mouth
  • Throat