In the United States, a disease has been discovered for the first time that kills up to 70 percent of people.
The bacteria that causes scrub typhus was found in mites living in half of North Carolina’s national parks, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It can be transmitted to humans through bites, causing symptoms such as rashes covering the extremities and dark, crusty spots around bites. In severe cases, it can also affect the function of the lungs and heart, resulting in death.
North Carolina State University scientists, who led the study, warned that further surveillance was needed in case the disease had spread to other states. It comes after warnings that malaria had reached the US for the first time in 20 years.
The above map shows where sampling took place in North Carolina and where mites were detected carrying the disease. Darker colors indicate a higher percentage of mites carrying the disease
Pictured above is the scab that can be caused by scrub typhus (left) and a larval and adult mite that can transmit the disease and transmit it to humans through a bite (right). The mites are displayed on top of a pin head
Scrub typhus is native to an area called the Tsutsugamushi Triangle — named after the bacteria that causes the disease — stretching from Pakistan to the far east of Russia and Australia, where it causes 1 million cases a year.
But it has recently started to show up in other areas, including the Middle East, southern Chile and Africa, prompting researchers to look for it in the US.
The Virginia Department of Health says scrub typhus is “not seen in the US” except in sporadic cases where it has been picked up by travelers.
Scrub typhus, also known as scrub typhus, is caused by an infection with the bacteria Orientia tsutsugamushi that can be transmitted by mites.
About 10 to 12 days after infestation, a reddish or pinkish lesion appears at the site of the mite bite.
The patient may also experience headache, fever, chills, muscle aches, and develop a sore on the skin with a ‘pushed out’ appearance.
About a week later, a pink rash may also appear on the skin around the abdomen that can then extend to the arms and legs.
Without treatment, the disease can also lead to abnormalities in the heart, lungs, and blood, which can lead to death.
Treatment includes doses of the antibiotic doxycycline to kill the bacteria causing the infection.
Scientists at the University of Texas say that between 30 and 70 percent of patients die if they don’t get the right treatment.
For the study, published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR), scientists monitored mite populations in 10 North Carolina national parks.
Mites were collected by placing a tile on the floor, which generally measures three feet by one foot, and searching the area within for arthropods.
Ten mites were collected at nine of the sites, while only five mites were collected at one site.
All mites were then tested to see if they were carriers of the bacteria that causes scrub typhus.
Testing showed that nine out of 10 mites in Lumber River State Park were infected with scrub typhus.
Eight in 10 in Kerr Lake State Recreation Area carried the bacteria behind the disease, as did one in 10 in Falls Lake State Recreation Area and Morrow Mountain State Park.
One in five from Merchant Millpond State Park was also infected.
Dr. Kaiying Chen, an entomologist who led the study, and her team said in the paper: “This result is…significant because it indicates…circulation of [scrub typhus] in chiggers [mites] collected within the continental United States.”
It was not clear how the disease reached the US, but it is possible that a person infected with it may have arrived in America. This person may then have been bitten by a mite, transmitting the disease.
Alternatively, mites carrying the disease may have found their way to the US on an airplane or via ship import.