Visceral leishmaniasis is caused by Leishmania infantum, which is transmitted to humans by bites of phlebotomine sand flies and is one of the most important public health problems in Iran. To identify the vector (s), an investigation was carried out in Germi district, an important focus of the disease in Ardebil province in northwestern Iran, during July-September 2004 and 2005. Using sticky papers, CDC light traps and aspirators, 3,560 sand flies were collected and identified to species. Host bloodmeal preference and Leishmania infections in female specimens were evaluated using enzymelinked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for the former and microscopic examination followed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay using species-specific kinetoplast minicircle primers for the latter. Nine sand fly species are present in the district, including Phlebotomus kandelakii Shchurenkova, Phlebotomus perfiliewi transcaucasicus Perfil'ev, Phlebotomus major Annandale, Phlebotomus balcanicus Theodor, Phlebotomus halepensis Theodor, Phlebotomus brevis Theodor & Meshghali, Phlebotomus papatasi Scopoli, Sergentomyia dentata Sinton, and Sergentomyia sintoni Pringle, with P. p. transcaucasicus being the most prevalent representative of the genus Phlebotomus at 45%. The anthropophilic index for P. p. transcaucasicus was 36.3%, indicating a strong preference for humans. Of 905 female P. p. transcuacasicus dissected, 10 (1.1%) were found naturally infected with promastigotes. Species-specific amplification of promastigotes eluted from Giemsa-stained slides revealed specific PCR products of L. infantum DNA. Based on its high anthropophily and natural infections with L. infantum, and the fact that it was the only species found infected with L. infantum, we conclude that P. p. transcaucasicus is the principal vector of L. infantum in northwestern Iran.
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Vol. 46 • No. 5