For the first time, a potentially deadly form of typhus spread by chiggers has been detected in the United States. Scientists from the CDC found that chiggers in North Carolina parks are infected with the bacteria that causes scrub typhus. This disease can lead to severe multiorgan failure and has a high fatality rate of up to 70% without prompt treatment. Previously, scrub typhus was only seen in the Tsutsugamushi Triangle in the Asia-Pacific region. The discovery in North Carolina marks the first detection of scrub typhus in free-living chigger mites in the US.
The infected chiggers were found throughout North Carolina, from coastal areas to more inland regions. (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) These tiny mites, both in their adult and larval forms, can fit on the head of a pin. Clinicians in the region are advised to be vigilant for possible cases of scrub typhus resulting from Orientia infection. (nypost.com) (nypost.com) The disease has also been recently discovered in Chile, parts of Africa, and the Middle East.
Scrub typhus is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected chiggers, which resemble small cigarette burns. Symptoms typically appear within 10 days of being bitten and include fever, headache, body aches, and rash. However, the infection can be misdiagnosed as the flu or even as other tick-borne diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Early detection is crucial, and scrub typhus can be effectively treated with the antibiotic doxycycline. (wwwnc.cdc.gov)
The detection of scrub typhus in the US reflects the trend of tropical diseases spreading into more temperate climates. This follows concerns raised by the recent discovery of five locally acquired malaria cases in the US, signaling the presence of disease-carrying mosquitoes within the country. (cdc.gov) (beckershospitalreview.com) (nypost.com) (dailymail.co.uk) The emergence of such diseases in new regions highlights the importance of surveillance, prevention, and timely treatment to mitigate their impact on public health.