Environmental factors associated with the distribution of visceral leishmaniasis in endemic areas of Bangladesh: Modeling the ecological niche
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Background: Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) is a parasitic infection (also called kala-azar in South Asia) caused by Leishmania donovani that is a considerable threat to public health in the Indian subcontinent, including densely populated Bangladesh. The disease seriously affects the poorest subset of the population in the subcontinent. Despite the fact that the incidence of VL results in significant morbidity and mortality, its environmental determinants are relatively poorly understood, especially in Bangladesh. In this study, we have extracted a number of environmental variables obtained from a range of sources, along with human VL cases collected through several field visits, to model the distribution of disease which may then be used as a surrogate for determining the distribution of Phlebotomus argentipes vector, in hyperendemic and endemic areas of Mymensingh and Gazipur districts in Bangladesh. The analysis was carried out within an ecological niche model (ENM) framework using a maxent to explore the ecological requirements of the disease. Results: The results suggest that VL in the study area can be predicted by precipitation during the warmest quarter of the year, land surface temperature (LST), and normalized difference water index (NDWI). As P. argentipes is the single proven vector of L. donovani in the study area, its distribution could reasonably be determined by the same environmental variables. The analysis further showed that the majority of VL cases were located in mauzas where the estimated probability of the disease occurrence was high. This may reflect the potential distribution of the disease and consequently P. argentipes in the study area. Conclusions: The results of this study are expected to have important implications, particularly in vector control strategies and management of risk associated with this disease. Public health officials can use the results to prioritize their visits in specific areas. Further, the findings can be used as a baseline to model how the distribution of the disease caused by P. argentipes might change in the event of climatic and environmental changes that resulted from increased anthropogenic activities in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
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