CHENNAI: When a 54-year-old woman from Chintadripet was admitted to Apollo Hospitals earlier this week with severe breathing difficulty, diarrhoea and high fever, doctors initially suspected pneumonia. But when the doctors saw a little black scar on her hip, the diagnosis was rewritten asscrub typhus — a rare zoonotic disease usually contracted from the wild. What puzzled doctors was that the patient had not travelled anywhere outside the city recently.
While Apollo Hospitals alone claims to have seen at least 200 such cases this year, compared to just 15 in 2009, many other city hospitals, such as Kanchi Kamakoti Childs Trust, say that they too have seen similar numbers in children. The disease spreads through bites of chiggers (mites found in forests). The mite injects a bacterium, called rickettsia tsutsugamushi, into the blood stream.
"In more than 60% of the cases, the indicator is the mite bite mark. We can also do a simple blood (ELISA) test. This picks up the antibodies and confirms infection," said Dr V Ramasubramanian, consultant, department of infectious diseases, Apollo Hospitals. "We normally see such cases in people who have travelled to forests. But the patients we see today are city dwellers with no travel history to forests or densely vegetative regions. This means that the mite could be in our gardens or on roadside shrubs."