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Investigations on the biology, epidemiology, pathology and control of Tunga penetrans in Brazil: IV. Clinical and histopathology

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Tungiasis is a parasitic skin disease caused by the sand flea Tunga penetrans. This ectoparasitosis is endemic in South America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa, where it is an important but neglected health problem in resource-poor communities. As part of a study on tungiasis-related morbidity in a typical slum in Fortaleza, Brazil, we identified 86 individuals with tungiasis. Lesions were counted, classified according to the stage of development, and clinical pathology was documented. One hundred and nine lesions were biopsied and examined by histological sectioning. The patients had between 1 and 145 lesions (median 14.5), the majority occurring in clusters. In all, 77% of patients reported severe pain at the site of the lesion, and 52% had one or more nails lost or severely deformed. Intense inflammation and/or fissures hindered 45% of the patients from walking normally. Signs of superinfection were observed in 29%, and signs of generalised inflammation in 2% of patients. Clinical pathology was significantly related to the number of lesions, and the total number of parasites present correlated with the number of fleas occurring in clusters. Clinical pathology was frequently accompanied by a pathological alteration of the epidermis (predominantly hyperplasia, parakeratosis, hyperkeratosis, and spongiosis) and the dermis. Tungiasis causes a broad spectrum of clinical and histopathological alterations, and is a serious health threat in a typical, impoverished community in northeast Brazil. The clinical pathology is closely related to the parasite burden of an individual and the clustering of embedded fleas at certain predilection sites.

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This study was supported in part by the Ärztekomittee für die Dritte Welt, Frankfurt (Germany), the World Health Organization, Geneva (Switzerland), the DAAD/CAPES PROBRAL program (Germany/Brazil), and donations from the following individuals: Michael Peitz, Hamburg, Gitta and Christian Hertz, Reinbek, and Kimio Powils-Okano, Wiesbaden, all Germany. We are indebted to the “Associação dos Moradores do Morroda Sandra’s” for supporting the study, and we are grateful to Vania Santos de Andrade and Walter Antônio da Silva for skilful assistance. The data are part of a medical thesis by M.E. The secretarial assistance of Michi Feldmeier is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Hermann Feldmeier.

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Feldmeier, H., Eisele, M., Van Marck, E. et al. Investigations on the biology, epidemiology, pathology and control of Tunga penetrans in Brazil: IV. Clinical and histopathology. Parasitol Res 94, 275–282 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-004-1197-2

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  • Clinical Pathology
  • Parasite Burden
  • Primary Health Care Centre
  • Pathology Score
  • Flea Species