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Horrible Blood-Sucking Disease Hits Uganda

    The progression and symptoms of this disease seem straight out of a horror movie. At least 20 Ugandans have died and 20,000 more have been sickened in just two months.

    Jiggers are the culprits in this epidemic. They are small insects which look like fleas. Jiggers often enter through the feet. Once they get inside a person’s body, they suck blood, grow, breed and multiply by the hundreds. Then, affected body parts – buttocks, lips and eyelids start rotting away.

    Uganda’s minister of health, James Kakooza, tells us that jiggers can easily kill young children by sucking their blood. They can also kill adults who have other diseases. Most of those infected, cannot walk or work.

    Dirty and dusty places are where these insects breed. Tungiasis is the medical name for this parasitic disease which is caused by the female sand fly burrowing through the skin. Besides sub-Saharan Africa, this disease exists in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.

    “It is an epidemic which we are fighting against and I am sure over time we will eradicate the jiggers,” Kakooza said. He said health workers are telling residents of the 12 affected districts that jiggers thrive amid poor hygienic conditions.

    “We are also telling them to use medicated soap. They can apply petrol and paraffin in places infested by jiggers and they die,” Kakooza said.

    Some affected by the disease, like Dakaba Kaala, think they are bewitched and simply wait to die instead doing anything about it. “For the last three years, I have been suffering from jiggers,” the 60 year old said. “I lost two children killed by jiggers. They were sent to me by my neighbor who wants to grab my piece of land.”

    “It is common to find graves of whole families wiped away by jiggers,” said Simon Wanjala, a ministry of health official in eastern Uganda.

    One million dollars has been allocated by the Ugandan government to fight this epidemic. Treatments will involve either removal of the insects or topical medication.

    A Nigerian study conducted a few years ago concluded that raising pigs, having sand or clay floors inside the home or, having a resting place outside the home increased the chance of getting jiggers. They recommended wearing closed shoes and performing pest control treatments to help prevent infestations.