Texas Doctors Find Skin Disease Moving North

Jamie Stengle, AP, September 15, 2007

When Dr. Kent Aftergut saw a patient with a couple of sores on his back resembling boils, the dermatologist immediately thought of an infection caused by a parasite usually found in South America, the Middle East, Mexico and South Texas.

But his patient, a 58-year-old from the North Texas town of Waxahachie, hadn’t recently traveled far. Tests, though, confirmed that Weldon Hatch’s two sores below his left shoulder blade were indeed leishmaniasis.

“It’s an ugly thing,” Hatch said.

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A search by a team of doctors at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, where Aftergut is on the faculty, found nine similar cases in North Texas in the last two years.

It’s something that the Texas Department of State Health Services has noticed as well.

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Tom Sidwa, manager of the zoonosis control branch for the health department, said they’re trying to determine what could be causing the move north.

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Luckily, the leishmaniasis cases identified by the medical center’s doctors have been Leishmania mexicana, a less dangerous form of the parasite that is not life-threatening. Unlike other forms, the infection doesn’t spread to the whole body.

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Aftergut said that treatment can include anti-fungal medications or removing the sores, which is what Hatch had done.

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