Leishmaniasis is a devastating infection that can be fatal if left untreated.

Worldwide, leishmaniasis is an important disease of humans and other animals caused by the parasite Leishmania.  Infection with Leishmania parasites can cause a range of symptoms, from ulcerative skin lesions to liver and spleen infection, and can be fatal.

Australia was thought to be free of Leishmania parasites until 2003, when Leishmania infections were discovered in captive red kangaroos in the Northern Territory (NT). Genetic analysis of the NT Leishmania revealed it was a new species, not found anywhere else in the world.

Further work is critical to assess the risk that both Australian and exotic Leishmania pose to wildlife and human health in Australia.

Our research focus:
  • To learn more about the novel species of Australian Leishmania and the biting midge that appears to transmit the parasite. Human-infecting Leishmania species from other parts of the world are brought into Australia by returning travellers, immigrants or asylum seekers from regions where the parasite is common. We want to determine the potential for our local biting midge to transmit both these exotic Leishmania species and the Australian Leishmania.
Our research impact:
  • As part of her PhD project, Dr Annette Dougall found evidence that biting midges transmit Leishmania in Australia. This was an extremely significant finding as it is the first evidence anywhere in the world of transmission of Leishmania by an insect other than a phlebotomine sandfly
  • We have also identified additional cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis in other captive macropods, including northern wallaroos, a black wallaroo and agile wallabies
  • In 2005, the Leishmania Project Team won the prestigious Chief Minister’s Research and Innovation Award in the NT for their work in identifying the insect that spreads the parasite Leishmania in Australia.

We acknowledge previous funding support from:

  • The Australian Biosecurity Co-operative Research Centre
  • The Wildlife and Exotic Diseases Preparedness Program, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Key staff:
  • Dr Annette Dougall, James Cook University
  • Dr Karrie Rose, Taronga Conservation Society Australia
  • Dr Shelley Walton, University of the Sunshine Coast
  • Dr Bruce Alexander, Xeroshield Ltd, Scotland
  • Cathy Shilton and Lorna Melville, Berrimah Veterinary Laboratories, Northern Territory Government
  • Dr Peter Whelan and Dr Nina Kurucz, Medical Entomology, Northern Territory Government
  • Dion Wedd and staff, Territory Wildlife Park
  • Professor Paul Bates, Lancaster University, England
  • Glenn Bellis, Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service
  • Dr David McLelland, Zoos South Australia
  • Professor Emanuela Handman.
  1. Dougall, A. M., Alexander, B., Holt, D. C., Harris, T., Sultan, A. H., Bates, P. A., et al. (2011). Evidence incriminating midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) as potential vectors of Leishmania in Australia. International Journal for Parasitology, 41(5), 571-579.
  2. Dougall, A., & Holt, D. (2011). Current status of cutaneous leishmaniasis in Australia. Veterinary Parasitology, 89(9), N10-N12.
  3. Dougall, A., Shilton, C., Low Choy, J., Alexander, B., & Walton, S. (2009). New reports of Australian cutaneous leishmaniasis in Northern Australian macropods. Epidemiology and Infection, 137(10), 1516-1520.
  4. Rose, K., Curtis, J., Baldwin, T., Mathis, A., Kumar, B., Sakthianandeswaren, A., et al. (2004). Cutaneous leishmaniasis in red kangaroos: isolation and characterisation of the causative organisms. International Journal for Parasitology, 34(6), 655-664.
Click here to view more leishmania publications in PubMed.