Jiggers (Chigoe Flea) – The Hidden African Killer

The Chigoe Flea or JiggerWhilst sitting on a plane after leaving Madagascar on our most recent trip, I felt a sore spot on one of my fingers. A small raised white lump had appeared, with a tiny black dot directly in the middle. I gave it a bit of a squeeze, and it was at this point I realised what it was. So I picked, scratched and squeezed a little more, until eventually out it popped, a bloody Jigger! These little parasites live in soil and sand, and like nothing more than burrowing head first into the skin of warm blooded hosts. They are found in many parts or Latin America, as well as Asia, but it is Africa where they are doing the most damage.

The Jigger (a Chigoe flea to the educated, or a Tunga Penetrans to those who are that way inclined) starts out quite small, with an adult female measuring only about 1mm in length, but it grows and grows as it continues to feed, with its abdomen filling with eggs. The abdomen of the flea ends up approximatly 5-10mm in width (the size of a small pea). At which point it begins to drop the eggs onto the ground through the small orifice (black dot as described above). These eggs will then hatch, and the cycle starts all over again.

After landing in Reunion Island we went back to our hotel, and I began the search on my feet. The hands are a rare place to have a jigger burrow in, and they are more common in the feet or lower limbs. After all my searching, to my delight I only found one more Madagascan stow away, on the bottom of one of my toe’s. I grabbed a pin and pricked the little bugger out. This one was a little more mature, and left a decent open wound on the bottom of my toe.

It’s been many years since my body has played host to these little parasites, with my last encounter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, way back in 1994. On this occasion, my feet were littered with them, and it took me many painful days to remove them.

Removing a Jigger from my toe

Sorry about the image, but you get the picture. This small white lump is the abdomen full of eggs.

For those people who’ve had the pleasure of picking these little monsters out of there bodies, they will know it’s not to much fun. Depending on their size, they can be quite painful, and the small open wounds left by the exiting flea can become infected and ulcerated, if you’re not careful. This is especially so on the soles of your feet.

After returning home, I began to do a little research on the Chigoe Flea, and it seems these little monsters have been causing quite a bit of damage to people lives in many parts of the world, but especially in sub-saharan Africa. There are many villages that have been completely infested with them, and mass infections have rendered people unable to walk, and in more serious cases people are dying from these little monsters.

A recent article in the Washington Post pointed out the missery that the Chigoe Flea is causing to the people of Uganda, with 20 dead and 20,000 seriously infected. There is also a great web page run by Ahadi Kenya Trust, that has all sorts of details on the Jigger and how you can help by donating to there program to eradicate Jiggers in Kenya.

[Update] – A new online charity organisation called ‘See The Difference’ has a program that you can donate to. They state that for 1 Pound you can remove the Jiggers from a childs feet. You can donate here.

This short youtube video, show’s just how menacing the Jigger can be, and the pain that many African families are suffering, due to the Chigoe Flea.


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     About the author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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  • http://www.chickybus.com Lisa E @chickybus

    Wow….that’s intense. I was bitten by sand fleas (in Belize) and it was awful in that it was so itchy (felt like ripping my skin off) and lasted for several weeks. But…after reading this post, I see that it didn’t even come close to your experience with the jiggers. While the sand fleas (aka, “no-see-ums’) were super annoying, what you dealt with is much worse because they’re egg-laying parasites.

    I really feel for the people in the video; how awful it must be to have an entire foot infested with jiggers. Glad to see that there’s a program in place to help them.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    This time around, the couple I found were not to much to worry about, nothing like my initiation to the Jigger, many years ago. All this pales into insignificance, when you see the pain and suffering they are causing in Africa.

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  • http://twitter.com/mukuba2002 zablon mukuba

    jiggers are nasty, and they are hard to control, the best thing is to avoid the infested areas

  • http://www.chickybus.com Lisa E @chickybus

    Good point. There is a lot of pain and suffering there. My heart goes out to them.

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Thanks for your comment Zablon. From my brief knowledge of them, it sounds like your on the money. If you know an area is infested, then stay away, because there just so hard to control. Thanks for your input.

  • Dom (seethedifference.org)

    Jason – we discovered your knowledge and passion for jiggers via twitter, we thought you might be interested in this jiggers project … http://www.seethedifference.org/charities/ace-africa/jiggers-foot-treatments-in-kenya I hope your happily living jiggers free these days ! dom and the see the difference gang

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    Thanks for letting people know about the ‘See The Difference’ project to eradicate jiggers from Kenya. I just donated, and I will update the post and place a link to your charity.

  • http://twitter.com/OverYonderlust Erica Kuschel

    I am going to have a panic attack when I have to deal with my first burrowing “friend”. I’m already freaked out about bot flies when we head south… I have luckily avoided these guys (called chiggers ’round these parts).

  • http://www.digid-rift.com Jason

    I’ve read about the Bot flies, but thankfully I’ve never had to deal with them. I think the ‘Chigger’ you describe above is actually a ‘Harvest Mite’, that is found in Southern and Mid Western United States, and often gets confused with the ‘Jigger’ or Chigoe Flea as described in my post. Thanks for stopping by and good luck as you make your way South.

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