Where, when, and how the diagnosis of human visceral leishmaniasis is defined: answers from the Brazilian control program

BACKGROUND Timely diagnosis is recommended by the Brazilian Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL) Surveillance and Control Program to reduce case fatality. Attempts at assessing this topic in Brazil are scarce. OBJECTIVE This study aimed to describe where, when, and how the diagnosis of VL has been performed in a Brazilian endemic setting. METHODS Data of all autochthonous cases confirmed between 2011 and 2016 (N = 81) were recorded. The care-seeking itinerary until the confirmation of VL diagnosis was assessed among 57 patients. FINDINGS The majority of VL cases (79.1%) were reported by referral hospitals. The patients mainly sought primary health care centres at the onset of symptoms. However, they had to visit seven health services on average to achieve a confirmed diagnosis. The time from the onset of symptoms to the diagnosis of VL (TD) ranged from 1-212 (median, 25) days. The TD was longer among adult patients. There was a direct correlation between the patient’s age and TD (r = 0.22; p = 0.047) and a higher occurrence of deaths due to the disease among older patients (p = 0.002). Almost all the patients (98.9%) underwent laboratory investigation, and the VL diagnosis was mainly confirmed based on clinical-laboratory criteria (92.6%). Positive results for the indirect fluorescence antibody test (22.7%) and parasitological examination plus rk39-based immunochromatographic tests (21.3%) were commonly employed. MAIN CONCLUSIONS VL diagnosis was predominantly conducted in hospitals with a long TD and wide application of serology. These findings may support measures focused on early diagnosis, including a greater involvement of the primary health care system.