The ecology of cutaneous leishmaniasis in Nizzana, Israel: Infection patterns in the reservoir host, and epidemiological implications

G. Wasserberg*, Z. Abramsky, G. Anders, M. El-Fari, G. Schoenian, L. Schnur, B. P. Kotler, I. Kabalo, A. Warburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


We conducted an extensive interdisciplinary study in an emerging focus of cutaneous leishmaniasis in the Western Negev Desert of Israel between July 1998 and February 2000. The aims of the this study were to determine (1) the reservoir hosts, (2) the distribution of the pathogen within the host range, (3) the associations of host, vector, and pathogen within defined habitats, (4) the demographic distribution of the pathogen within the host populations, and (5) to apply the newly acquired epizootiological data to explain morbidity patterns in humans. Fourteen square (60 m width) sampling plots were delimited in three types of habitats each with a different kind of substrate: loess, sand, and sand-loess ecotone. Rodents and sand flies were trapped and several environmental variables were measured. Leishmania infections in rodents were detected microscopically in stained smears of ear tissue and by a Leishmania-specific polymerase chain reaction. Results indicate that, contrary to previous reports, Psammomys obesus and not Meriones crassus is the main reservoir host in the region. Additional rodents (12 Gerbillus dasyurus and two M. crassus) were also found positive for Leishmania DNA. Prevalence of Leishmania infections amongst P. obesus was highest in loess habitats (65%), intermediate in the sandy-loess ecotone (20%), and 0% in the sandy habitats. Psammomys obesus individuals in the loess habitat of the Nizzana ruins were larger, on average (probably older), than those in the sandy habitat of the Mt. Keren junction. Sand fly density was positively correlated to soil moisture being higher in the relatively humid plots of Nizzana ruins and much lower in the drier sandy soil of Mt. Keren. Elucidation of fundamental ecological factors affecting this disease has helped explain an apparent discrepancy between the distribution of the disease in the zoonotic system and among humans.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)133-143
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank D. Palmach for help in accommodation and logistics in Nizzana village and also thank the Minerva Arid Ecosystems Research Center, Hebrew University, for providing climatological data. We thank Lt. I. Bareli for help with the epidemiological analysis, and to anonymous referees for the helpful comments. This study was supported by a research grant number 8774 from the Fund for Research in Regional R&D Centers, Israel Ministry of Science, and by grant number SO 220/5-1 from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG): ‘The Palestinian–Israeli–German Cooperative project on Leishmaniasis in Israel and The West Bank’. This is publication number 338 of the Mitrani department for desert ecology.


  • Cutaneous leishmaniasis
  • Disease distribution
  • Epidemiology
  • Nizzana
  • Psammomys obesus
  • Zoonosis


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