Infectious Disease Compendium



Due to a female sand flea, Tunga penetrans, that lives on your blood.

Epidemiologic Risks

Found in South America, The Caribbean (its ancestral home) and in sub-Saharan Africa. "The spread to greater Africa occurred throughout the 17th and 19th centuries, specifically in 1872 when the infected crewmen of the ship Thomas Mitchell introduced it into Angola by illegal dumping of sand ballast, having sailed from Brazil (Wikipedia)."


Painful, itchy skin bumps.

Sand flea disease is the result of an intense inflammatory response against sand fleas embedded in the skin. Through its abdominal rear cone the parasite remains in contact with the environment. The opening in the skin is needed for copulation with male sand fleas, breathing, defecation and expelling eggs. After expulsion of all eggs the female sand flea dies and is discarded from the epidermis by tissue repair mechanisms. Although self limited, it is a debilitating disease in endemic areas due to the sequella of repeated and severe infection (PubMed).


Digging them out with unsterile tools in most of the world. Bad idea in the third world. As the flea is engorged with blood it can be difficult to extract without widening the opening.

Topical ivermectin, metrifonate, thiabendazole, or dimeticone (PubMed).

Suffocation of the flea by applying a thick wax or jelly.

Freezing with liquid nitrogen.


It was first reported in Columbus's sailors, who helped spread it all ove the world along with syphilis. Go Colombus.

Last Update: 05/01/18.