In the capital of the Tamil Nadu state in eastern India, health professionals in Chennai are reporting seeing a spike in cases of scrub typhus.
“In the last two weeks, we’ve been seeing a sharp spike in the number of people reporting with fever, and every third or fourth case turns out to be scrub typhus,” said Dr R Prasanna, Associate Professor, paediatrics, SRM Medical College Hospital and Research Centre. Around 90% of these cases are being reported from the city’s outskirts and areas with more green cover like Guindy and Tambaram. While the infection can be cured if detected early, it can be fatal if misdiagnosed. Public health experts say with the current scare over ailments like dengue and leptospirosis, doctors tend to overlook scrub typhus. According to Dr Prasanna, diagnosis is not easy as typhus fever often presents with symptoms similar to other ailments, like body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit, chills and gastro-intestinal problems. “Recently we had a 28-day-old baby brought to us with high fever and respiratory problems. It was after a battery of tests we found that it was scrub typhus,” he said.
Scrub typhus is a disease that is transmitted by chiggers. Chiggers like to stay at the tips of weeds, waiting for an opportunity to attach to passing humans or animals. Therefore, the chance of becoming infected with scrub typhus is much higher when people walk through bush areas.
After being bitten by the chigger, an eschar will form over the bite, and the incubation period usually ranges from 9 to 12 days. Subsequently, symptoms such as fever, headache, sweating and swelling or inflammation of the lymph gland will begin to develop.
After having had fever for about 1 week, a dark red papule will appear in the trunk, spread to extremities, and disappear after several days.
Complications of untreated scrub typhus include swelling of the lungs, brain encephalitis, renal failure or even heart problems. It is easily treated with antibiotics (doxycycline).