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FILE - A fisherman walks on the shore of the fishing village Quetalmahue in Chile's Chiloe island, May 10, 2016. Scrub typhus has been confirmed in a cluster of cases on the island, far from places it usually strikes. Image source: VOA
  • Sept 09, 2016: Microscopic biting mites known as chiggers leads to a deadly disease know as Scrub Typhus. Scientists quoted on Wednesday that “This disease is common in Southeast Asia and has been rapidly spreading in parts of South America and it could have become endemic there.

The bacteria that caused this disease were first identified in Japan in 1930 and it has been known since many years.

Scrub typhus is a tropical disease which kills at least 140,000 people a year in the Asia-Pacific region. This has been confirmed in a cluster of cases on a large island off Chile. This island is 12,000 kilometers away from its usual haunts on the other side of Pacific.


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Chiggers transmit the bacteria, Orientia tsutsugamushi , they spread through the lymphatic fluid and show a number of symptoms. Sudden illness with shaking chills, fever, severe headache, infection of the mucus membrane in the eyes, and lymph node swelling are the symptoms of this disease.

It was Mis conceptualized until 2006 that Scrub typhus was restricted to a limited area. This was called the “tsutsugamushi triangle,” which ranged from Pakistan in the west to far eastern Russia in the east to northern Australia in the south.

Wider distribution?

Researchers from Britain’s Oxford University and the Pontificia Universidad Católica and Universidad del Desarrollo in Chile while writing to “The New England Journal of Medicine” said that, cases found off Chile’s mainland, “suggest there may be a much wider global distribution than previously understood.”


Charles Nicolle received the 1928 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his identification of lice as the transmitter of epidemic typhus. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Two cases of scrub typhus were found outside the triangle in the year 2006. One, in the Middle East, was caused by a previously unrecorded bacteria related to tsutsugamushi and namedOrientia Chuto. The second was found on Chiloe island, just off mainland Chile.

Paul Newton, director of the Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Trust Research Unit said “Scrub typhus is a common disease but a neglected one.”

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In January 2015 and again in early 2016 on the northern coast of Chiloe that is, in Ancud, three more cases were discovered.

This disease causes approximately a million clinical cases, and kills at least 140,000 people each year,there’s evidence of an even bigger burden of disease in another part of the world highlights the need for more research and attention to it.”

– prepared by Manthra Koliyer with inputs from VOA


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