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Surge in Scrub Typhus Cases Sparks Concern: KDCA Issues Caution

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Twice the Level Compared to 2019
Caution Against Mites During Outdoor Activities

As the weather gets warmer, an unexpected infectious disease is spreading.

People resting on grass. Image to aid understanding of the article / Sunny studio-Shutterstock.com
 

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) warned on the 18th that scrub typhus, also known as tsutsugamushi disease, is already rampant this year.

According to the KDCA, 302 cases of scrub typhus were reported from January to the 6th of this month, double the 182 cases reported during the same period in 2019.

Scrub typhus is an acute febrile disease caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi. It is transmitted through the bite of chiggers (larval mites) infected with the bacteria.

It is typically contracted during the fall when the weather cools down after a hot, humid summer, and outdoor activities increase, making it one of the three major infectious diseases of the fall season.

The main symptoms of scrub typhus include fever, headache, chills, and skin rashes. A characteristic feature is the presence of an eschar at the site where the mite is attached to the skin. Due to a maximum incubation period of three weeks, many cases are detected late. In severe cases, it can cause vascular obstruction or bleeding and lead to complications in the brain or digestive system, which can be fatal.

On average, 4,000 to 6,000 patients are reported annually in Korea, with most cases occurring between late summer and early fall.

The chiggers that cause scrub typhus / Provided by the KDCA – Yonhap News
 

However, this year, cases of scrub typhus have been popping up since spring.

The KDCA explained that this is due to the recent weather, about 10 degrees warmer than average, increasing the mites’ activity, the infection’s vectors.

As mites live on rodents or in grassy areas and attach to human bodies to suck body fluids and transmit bacteria, caution is required during outdoor activities to avoid contracting scrub typhus.

It’s best to avoid sitting directly on grass without a mat and wearing revealing clothing during hiking or camping. To minimize skin exposure, wear long-sleeved tops and long pants. Using insect repellent can also help prevent scrub typhus infection.

The KDCA, noting the surge in scrub typhus cases, urged, “Please be careful not to get bitten by mites during outdoor activities,” and warned that “urinating outdoors can also expose the body, making it a risky behavior.”

They also stressed the need to get into the habit of shaking off your clothes outside before entering the house after outdoor activities.

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