Scrub typhus outbreak in Himachal affects 700, kills 20

Updated on Sep 27, 2016 05:49 PM IST

Centre offers support to control the bacterial infection spread by mites that cause seasonal outbreaks in hilly areas.

HT Image(Shutterstock file photo)
HT Image(Shutterstock file photo)
Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi

The centre on Tuesday asked for a detailed report on scrub typhus, a bacterial disease, from the Himachal Pradesh government in view of the rising number of cases.

According to sources, the disease has affected more than 700 people and claimed 20 lives.

Union health minister JP Nadda assured support to the state for managing the endemic disease. “The ministry is closely monitoring the situation and, if requested, shall provide all logistical and technical support to the Himachal Government,” he said.

Scrub typhus, which is caused by a group of microorganisms called rickettsiae, is usually transmitted by mites that are found in the shrubs in hilly areas. It can also be transmitted by lice, ticks and fleas.

In Delhi, where the disease in not very common, 33 people have tested positive and two have died of it so far this year.

Read: 33 test positive for scrub typhus in Delhi, symptoms similar to chikungunya

The symptoms of scrub typhus are similar to chikungunya, which is doing the rounds in Delhi. It begins with high fever, skin rashes, respiratory problems, red eyes and unconsciousness. Some of the patients also develop joint pains, which is characteristic of chikungunya.

It may progress on to respiratory distress, pneumonitis (inflammation of lung tissue), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), kidney failure and then multi-organ failure. If untreated, it can kill.

If detected in time, the disease can be cured using antibiotics. “Dengue and chikungunya are self-limiting viral diseases that do not have any treatment, apart from management of symptoms. In scrub typhus, however, administering antibiotics on time can save lives,” said Dr Rama Chaudhary, professor of microbiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

But, getting an early diagnosis is a problem in Himachal, where Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital (IGMCH) is the only scrub typhus testing and treating centre.

Scrub typhus:

A disease caused by Rickettsia bacteria. Fleas, mites (chiggers), lice, or ticks transmit it when they bite you. It cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Incubation period (time between bite and beginning of symptoms): 10 – 14 days

Fatality: 30-45 per cent, if untreated


Headache, fever, chills, rash, cough, red lesion at the site of the bite


•skin biopsy - sample of the skin from your rash will be tested in a lab

•Western blot - test to identify presence of typhus bacteria

•immunofluorescence test - using fluorescent dyes to detect typhus in samples of mucus

•blood test – blood sample tested for the presence of infection

Treatment: Administration of antibiotics like doxycycline, cholramphenicol, ciprofloxacin


•hepatitis (infection of the liver)

•gastrointestinal hemorrhage (bleeding inside the intestines)

•hypovolaemia (decrease in blood volume)

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    Anonna Dutt is a health reporter at Hindustan Times. She reports on Delhi government’s health policies, hospitals in Delhi, and health-related feature stories.

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