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Tungiasis, the skin condition caused by the parasitic Tungapenetrans flea, can cause several different symptoms in a patient who has been bitten.
The tunga flea is found on sandy beaches, rainforests, or around stables. It tends to stay close to the ground and so most commonly bites the feet of people, as well as the feet of other warm-blooded animals.
The bites are mostly concentrated around the lower area, nearer to the ground. This can include bites between the toes. The individual is unlikely to feel the interaction with the flea but will see the effects later. If the person is bitten by the female version of the flea, she will penetrate the skin and burrow inside the epidermis to reach the blood vessels and feed. Her abdomen will be positioned at the surface of the skin and contribute to the discomfort the patient feels. The female flea can remain under the skin for two weeks and during this time it will steadily increase in volume by up to 2000 its original size. She will also be producing more than 100 eggs that will fall out of the cavity it has produced.
Some people have tried to remove the parasite without the help of a doctor because of the combination of irritating and painful symptoms described below:
In addition to the symptoms described, there can also be further complications from bacteria and viruses that the fleas might introduce to the body. Here are some of them:
If tungiasis is suspected, doctors will look for signs that eggs from the burrowing female flea, are being expelled from the affected area on the feet. A doctor can massage the foot in the suspected area to encourage the production of the eggs from a cavity. Another visible sign is brown strands of feces produced by the flea hanging out of the sores.
A biopsy can also be carried out on the lesions to determine whether a parasite is present. The doctor will be looking for signs of ectoparasite or chitinous fragments.
Local people are also very good at recognizing the signs of the disease in others within their community.