Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

BackgroundTungiasis is a neglected tropical skin disease caused by the sand flea Tunga penetrans. Female fleas penetrate the skin, particularly at the feet, and cause severe inflammation. This study aimed to characterize disease burden in two highly affected regions in Kenya, to test the use of thermography to detect tungiasis-associated inflammation and to create a new two-level classification of disease severity suitable for mapping, targeting, and monitoring interventions.MethodsFrom February 2020 to April 2021, 3532 pupils age 8-14 years were quasi-randomly selected in 35 public primary schools and examined for tungiasis and associated symptoms. Of the infected pupils, 266 were quasi-randomly selected and their households visited, where an additional 1138 family members were examined. Inflammation was assessed using infra-red thermography. A Clinical score was created combining the number of locations on the feet with acute and chronic symptoms and infra-red hotspots.ResultsThe overall prevalence of tungiasis among all the school pupils who were randomly selected during survey rounds 1 and 3 was 9.3% [95% confidence interval (CI): 8.4-10.3]. Based on mixed effects logistic models, the odds of infection with tungiasis among school pupils was three times higher in Kwale (coastal Kenya) than in Siaya [western Kenya; adjusted odds ratio (aOR) = 0.36, 95% CI: 0.18-0.74]; three times higher in males than in females (aOR = 3.0, 95% CI: 2.32-3.91) and three times lower among pupils sleeping in a house with a concrete floor (aOR = 0.32, 95% CI: 0.24-0.44). The odds of finding an infected person among the household population during surveys before the COVID-19 pandemic was a third (aOR = 0.32, 95% CI: 0.19-0.53) of that when schools were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and approximately half (aOR = 0.44, 95% CI: 0.29-0.68) in surveys done after school re-opening (round 3). Infection intensity was positively correlated with inflammation as measured by thermography (Spearman's rho = 0.68, P ConclusionsThermography was a valuable addition for assessing morbidity and the proposed two-level classification of disease severity clearly separated patients with mild and severe impacts. The burden of tungiasis was considerably higher in households surveyed during COVID-19 restrictions suggesting underlying risks are found in the home environment more than in school.

Original publication




Journal article


Infectious diseases of poverty

Publication Date





KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Hospital Road, Kilifi, Kenya.


Animals, Humans, Inflammation, Thermography, Prevalence, Cost of Illness, Schools, Adolescent, Child, Kenya, Female, Male, Tunga, Tungiasis, Pandemics, COVID-19