The female sand flea, also called Chigoe fleas or Tunga penetrans, is responsible for causing the parasitic disease Tungiasis. The disease is associated with poverty as it is mainly seen in poorer communities around the Caribbean islands, South America and Africa. In this guide, we will study everything you need to know about Jigger bug removal, the symptoms of Tungiasis as well as Jigger treatment.
But first up; some basics about Jigger or Chigoe fleas.
Defining the beach flea
Jiggers or Chigoe fleas are known by many different names, including sand fleas or beach fleas. The disease they cause is also known by various names around different parts of the world: Sand flea disease, Chigoe, Sikka, Ogri eye and so on. Only the female sand flea causes the ectoparasitical infection called Jigger or Tungiasis. The symptoms of Tungiasis are often mistaken for other skin conditions such as Verruca vulgaris, warts, dermoid cysts, melanoma as well as insect bites or stings.
Life cycle of Chigoe fleas
Both male and female Chigoe fleas attack and drink blood from humans and other mammals. The fertilized female flea (which measures about 1.0 mm in length) burrows into the epidermis of the skin. Its abdominal segment then enlarges to form a sac which extends up to 1.0 cm in diameter. The fertilized eggs are then dropped into the sac from where they later get dropped off into the sand. Once outside the host’s body, the eggs undergo complete transformation into different larval and pupal stages while the eggless female leaves the burrow of the skin or dies off due to sloughing off by the epidermis and the natural tissue repair mechanism. The entire life cycle of the Jigger flea, from skin invasion to egg-laying, takes about 8-10 days. During this period, the fleas feed extensively on body fluids and continue to swell in size. The eggs are often expelled due to the itching action of the host (after a few weeks since laying). The fallen eggs hatch in the sand in a couple of days.
Symptoms of Tungiasis
The pregnant female Jiggers burrow into the skin on the feet, legs or any other body parts. After all its eggs have been expelled, the lesion development begins. The burrowing and subsequent sac formation on the skin is intensely painful and causes irritation, itching and pea sized skin lesions on the hosts’ body. A fully developed lesion in Tungiasis can be described as a white colored nodule having a central black pit. If proper Jigger bug removal methods are not followed, there may be complications such as Cellulitis, Gangrene and Tetanus. Usual sites of Jigger invasions are the toe nails, soles and even underneath the finger nails. Other sites on the skin that come in contact with sand may also be susceptible to Jigger invasions.
Why proper Jigger removal is important
Jigger infestation starts to irritate once the female flea has swollen inside the skin’s burrow. This itself leads to severe ulceration. Timely Jigger removal is crucial as failure to do so can lead to several complications. If the female Chigoe flea dies in the skin, it can cause many serious secondary infections. Many a host/victim has even had to have toes amputated due to Jigger invasions. Often times, people use dirty unsterilized pins and their fingernails to remove the Chigoe fleas. Such needles and pins leave pits in the skin which may turn into sores or septic ulcers. The toenails can even have pus formation underneath due to these sores.
Prevention and control of Jigger infections
Jigger fleas are usually found on sandy beaches but they may also maintain themselves in domestic environments by breeding on livestock and domestic animals. So, proper Jigger removal methods must be used. In the majority of infestations, the victim has not been wearing shoes or flip-flops on the beach. Children are therefore most susceptible to Chigoe infections on beaches.
Jigger removal in dogs and domesticated pets must also be followed and special efforts must be made to remove beach fleas from your pet’s paws. Ivermectin (0.2 mg per kilogram of body weight) can help prevent Jigger flea infestation in dogs and cats. Ivermectin also kills other parasites that cause skin infections and dermatitis in pets.
Wearing shoes in infested areas can prevent Chigoe flea infestations in humans. People must make it a point to inspect their feet after coming back home from sandy beaches. Female fleas that have just burrowed inside the skin appear as minute black spots that cause irritation and itchiness on the skin.
Flea repellent insecticide sprays such as DEET may help prevent Tungiasis to an extent. These must be applied all over the body and especially on the soles and heels of the feet. Walking barefooted in sand quickly removes the insecticide; so care must be taken to reapply every few hours.
Treatment of Tunga Penetrans
Successful Tunga Penetrans treatment includes skillful removal of the fleas. This may be done with sterilized forceps, needles or sharp objects like thorns or even the tip of a knife, but it is always recommended to seek medical attention for this procedure. The site of the infection must be immediately cleaned using some alcohol based solution to avoid infection.
Removal of Jiggers in feet can be done painlessly but it is very important not to rupture the egg sac. This is because; as already stated above, serious secondary infections may occur if parts of the flea’s body or eggs are left behind in the wound. After Jigger removal, the infected area must be cleaned with Iodine or Alcohol and covered and protected until it heals.