As you fight the coronavirus pandemic, consider the ‘silent killers’ too

Tuesday June 23 2020

Sandflies are very small, about a third the size of a mosquito, and make no noise while in flight. Their bites can sometimes be painless. For these reasons, many people have no idea that they have been bitten by the insect.

Sandfly bites cause kala-azar disease, also called black fever or Dumdum fever, the second-highest killer after malaria. It is a chronic and potentially fatal disease of the viscera — internal organs — due to infection by the parasite Leishmania donovani.

Kala-azar is prevalent in parts of Asia (primarily India), Africa (mainly Sudan) and South America (particularly Brazil) where there are an estimated half a million cases per year. There are also several hundred cases yearly in Europe (especially in the Mediterranean region) and a few in North America.

The disease has now been detected in Kitui, where it recently killed at least two people, Garissa, Mandera, Marsabit and Wajir counties.

Kala-azar can cause no or few symptoms but it is typically associated with fever, loss of appetite (anorexia), fatigue, enlargement of the liver, spleen and nodes and suppression of the bone marrow. It also increases the risk of secondary infections.

It has no vaccine or cure. To prevent infection, protect yourself from sandfly bites, avoid outdoor activities, especially from dusk to dawn and minimise exposed skin.


Wear long-sleeved shirts, trousers and socks and tuck in your shirt. Apply insect repellent to exposed skin and under the ends of sleeves and pant legs and also spray living/sleeping areas with an insecticide.

Omulama Kelvin, Busia