What is a jigger? It is a sand flea ( aka Tunga penetrans) whose original home was South America but which has become established in East Africa as a major pest. T. penetrans is the world’s smallest know flea, at about 1mm in length but despite its small size can it causes one heck of a lot of trouble.
The female sand flea lives in the soil and when mature burrows into the skin (most commonly between the toes) of its human host where it lays eggs and causes intense itching. The burrow site often becomes secondarily infected leading to severe complications of ulcers, tissue loss and gangrene. The worst case scenario is septicemia (blood poisoning) and even death.
Jigger infestation, once established in the home, affects the whole family. The root cause is poverty and unsanitary living conditions. Families who have jiggers often have dirt floors which allow the parasites to lay eggs and multiply. Treating the jiggers with lotions or solutions that kill the fleas works temporarily. However, the next rainy season the eggs in the floor will hatch and start the cycle again.
The Judavee Youth in Esabalu took this on as their project for last year (2018). All the Judavee members received training in how to identify jigger infections and in the proper treatment of the infestations. They formed into 2-3 person “jigger squads” and visited the homes of poor families who were known to suffer from jiggers. All the affected individuals were treated with antiseptic footbath solution (and re-treated if necessary) until the whole household was jigger free. Then the floors and lower walls of the huts were sprayed with ovicide to prevent any eggs from hatching in the next jigger season. The ovicide treatment and jigger inspection of the inhabitants was repeated for 3 cycles to ensure that the adult parasites would not come back.
In total, 179 families were treated at a cost of about $5 per home. Thanks Judavee for your time and effort to scratch one terrible itch from the lives of everyone in Esabalu. And thanks Amesbury for Africa contributors for providing the funds to get the job done.