The New England Journal of Medicine is reporting that scrub-typhus is expanding it’s range and is currently having a major resurgence. The report states:
Scrub typhus, a systemic, life-threatening disease with an enormous incidence in Asia and the islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, remains remarkably neglected. Discovery of this vectorborne infectious disease on Chiloé Island in Chile and its detection in Africa highlight the fact that we have heretofore paid too little attention to it and developed too little relevant expertise.
Infection with Orientia tsutsugamushi, the causal agent, classically begins with the appearance of an eschar at the site of mite feeding and enlargement of the draining lymph nodes, followed by fever, headache, myalgia, and gastrointestinal symptoms. In severe cases, the illness can progress to the development of interstitial pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, meningoencephalitis, acute kidney injury, or disseminated intravascular coagulation, causing death in 7% or more of patients unless they are treated sufficiently early in the course of illness with doxycycline, azithromycin, or somewhat less effectively, chloramphenicol.
Scrub-typhus kills more than 140,000 people a year and sickens more a million more and this figure will very likely rise given the current explosive spread. It’s usually found in the Asia-Pacific region but India, Micronesia, and the Maldives have all reported recent cases and its incidence is growing in locations such as South Korea and China north of the Yangtze River, where it was previously unknown. The cases recorded in Chile are the first recorded in the Americas and should be taken as a warning that action needs to be taken and taken fast.
The disease which should not be confused with typhus although both are caused by insect bites. Typhus lice cause typhus and bites from ‘chiggers’ cause scrub-typhus which infect the sufferer with Orientia tsutsugamushi which is a genus of bacteria in family Rickettsiaceae.
Sadly the mite that causes the problem is minute, so small it can only be seen under a microscope which means the chance of seeing them and removing them is impossible and this makes the situation all the more dire.
That this disease has made it to South America should concern us all. Although rodents are once again part of the cycle that allows a disease to spread a simple vermin eradication programme is not something that would work.
Scrub typhus was named for the scrub vegetation of secondary tropical growth where mature forest had been cut — habitats that provide a favorable environment for rodents, which are hosts to the stage of trombiculid mite that is a reservoir and vector for O. tsutsugamushi. The infected larval mite that hatches from an infected egg is the only parasitic stage that feeds on a vertebrate animal such as a human or rodent, which are only incidental hosts. The nymphal and adult mites reside in the soil. Thus, it is impossible to eradicate O. tsutsugamushi from its natural cycle with any strategy currently available. (source).
Once again we find a relatively unheard of disease could sicken and/or kill large numbers of the population. Those who have the power to challenge and fight these disease outbreaks need to do so and soon.
Wouldn’t it be great if the warmongering politicians around the world put the cash they spend on arms to fighting global health threats?