Visceral leishmaniasis (VL, kala azar), caused by Leishmania donovani is a major health problem in Sudan and other East African countries. In this region the only proven vectors of L. donovani are Phlebotomus orientalis in eastern Sudan, Ethiopia and Upper Nile areas of Southern Sudan and Phlebotomus martini in Ethiopia, Kenya and Southern Sudan. In this report, we present the first evidence that Phlebotomus rodhaini may also play a role in maintaining transmission of L. donovani between animal reservoir hosts in eastern Sudan. The study was conducted in a zoonotic focus of visceral leishmaniasis in Dinder National Park, eastern Sudan, where previous work showed high infection rates of L. donovani in P. orientalis. Sand flies, captured by CDC traps were dissected and examined for infection with Leishmania parasites. Parasite isolates were subjected to L. donovani specific PCR. Field experiments were also carried out to compare efficiency of rodent baited and un-baited CDC traps in collection of P. rodhaini and determine its man-biting rate.
Three female P. rodhaini were found infected with Leishmania parasites in an astonishingly small number of flies captured in three separate field trips. Two of these isolates were typed by molecular methods as L. donovani, while the third isolate was inoculated into a hamster that was subsequently lost. Although P. rodhaini is generally considered a rare species, results obtained in this study indicate that it can readily be captured by rodent-baited traps. Results of human landing collection showed that it rarely bites humans in the area.
It is concluded that P. rodhaini is a possible vector of L. donovani between animal reservoir hosts but is not responsible for infecting humans. It is suggested that the role of P. rodhaini in transmission of L. donovani in other zoonotic foci of visceral leishmaniasis in Africa should be re-examined.