Type of disease: Rare conditions

Tungiasis is a skin disease that is caused by a sand flea parasite. The fleas usually start to burrow in the top layer of the skin, and then dig deeper to get into the blood vessels and cause skin lesions. Because the fleas cannot jump that much, the lesions are most commonly found on the feet. The lesions are gray or whitish sores with a black spot in the center. These sores start off causes itching and may eventually cause redness and swelling, though some people show no symptoms. This disease originated in the Caribbean, but the fleas have spread to Africa, India, Pakistan, and Latin America, as they like warm, dry areas.

This condition is diagnosed by observing the sore and possibly taking a sample of the sore to medically test for the parasite. Treatment varies on the severity of the condition and length of time infected. The quicker the diagnosis, the easier it is to be treated. Many times, the disease will heal on its own as the fleas die. More severe cases may involve surgically removing the flea from the skin or medications to kill the fleas. Closed shoes and socks as well as examining feet for fleas can help to prevent the disease.

If you or a family member has been diagnosed with tungiasis, talk with your doctor about the most current treatment options. Support groups are also good resources of support and information.

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