Background Rio de Janeiro State in Brazil is an endemic area of American tegumentary leishmaniasis (ATL) induced by Leishmania (Viannia) braziliensis.

Objective Our purpose was to describe the main clinical and epidemiologic characteristics of the disease in Rio de Janeiro State.

Methods Patients from endemic areas of Rio de Janeiro State attending the Evandro Chagas Hospital were included in the study. A general physical, dermatologic, and otorhinolaryngologic examination was performed in all patients, as well as a Leishmanin skin test. Skin biopsy specimens were obtained and utilized for touch preparations (stained with Leishman dye), culture in special media (Nicolle, Nevy and McNeal; NNN), and histopathologic examination after hematoxylin and eosin stain. Positive cultures were identified with regard to species by the isoenzyme technique. Therapy with pentavalent antimonial compounds was employed in all cases. Eco-epidemiologic characteristics were studied through regular field visits to endemic foci.

Results Cutaneous disease was present in 87.2% of patients, and mucosal disease in only 12.7%. A single ulcerative cutaneous lesion was the most common clinical presentation. Demonstration of the parasite was always difficult and culture in special media gave the best results for diagnosis. The species involved in transmission was Leishmania (Viannia) braziliensis. Vectors included phlebotomine sand flies (Diptera: Psychodidae) of the genus Lutzomyia, and the most common species was Lutzomyia intermedia, captured mainly on the external walls of houses.

Conclusions ATL in Rio de Janeiro is mostly a cutaneous disease. In general, the cases showed great sensitivity to antimony. A pattern of peridomestic transmission seems to be the rule.