Dog owners in south of France warned of incurable disease

Dog owners in the south of France are being warned against an incurable serious disease - canine leishmaniasis - that is spread by sand flies and mainly present in the Mediterranean region.

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What is it?

A parasitic disease spread by an insect called the sand fly (known as le phlébotome in French). This insect, which is similar to a mosquito, bites and infects its host with a microscopic parasite, which causes the disease.

Humans can also catch the disease if bitten by an infected sand fly.

In both dogs and humans, the disease can be fatal without treatment.

Dogs are the main carriers of the disease, which is very rare in humans in France.

What are the symptoms?

The main signs tend to be an unexplained drop in the dog’s weight, an increase in the size of its lymph nodes, skin rashes or irritation, loss of hair, dandruff, damage to the nose, and unexplained lengthening of the claws.

Is it curable?

Unfortunately, although the condition is treatable it is incurable. A dog that is infected will need continued veterinary care to ensure that the condition is slowed and kept in check.

Infected dogs remain carriers all their life.

How can I prevent it?

If you travel to, or live in, an at-risk area, you should take precautionary measures. These include:

  • Treating your dog with an appropriate insect repellent
  • Vaccinating your dog to reduce the risk of developing the disease
  • Limiting your dog’s exposure to sand-fly bites by keeping it indoors overnight during high-risk seasons, and avoiding walking in high-risk environments
  • If your dog is already infected, you must ensure it is treated regularly to keep it healthy (despite the disease not having a cure), to reduce the risk of your dog infecting other dogs.

A disease on the rise

Sand flies like humidity and heat, and are generally present in the Mediterranean region and surroundings, including the south of France, Spain, Africa, and the Middle East.

Climate change, causing higher temperatures, more rain, and high humidity levels, means that the flies are living longer and increasing in number.

In France, the affected zone grew by 9% between 2011 and 2017.

Human public transport has also been shown to spread the illness, as the flies can travel long distances on hosts such as infected dogs.

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