Tackling Tungiasis: Effective Treatment for Tunga Penetrans (Jiggers)

Tunga penetrans, commonly known as the jigger flea, is a parasitic insect that burrows into the skin of humans and animals, causing a condition called tungiasis. Prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and parts of the Indian subcontinent, this tiny flea thrives in dusty and sandy environments.

Pigs are the primary hosts for jigger fleas, but they can also infest cattle, poultry, and humans. The flea has a particular preference for feet, hands, knees, elbows, and buttocks, especially in children, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

Symptoms and Complications of Tungiasis

The presence of jigger fleas can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • Intense itching and discomfort
  • Painful lesions and sores
  • Skin inflammation and thickening
  • Difficulty walking or performing daily activities

If left untreated, tungiasis can lead to severe complications, including:

  • Secondary bacterial infections
  • Disfigurement and scarring
  • Psychological distress
  • In rare cases, gangrene and tetanus

Traditional Treatment Methods and Their Drawbacks

Traditionally, jigger flea removal involved using sharp objects like needles or thorns to extract the embedded fleas. However, this method is not only painful but also carries a high risk of infection and can worsen the condition.

New Breakthrough in Jigger Flea Treatment

Scientists, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, have made a significant breakthrough in treating tungiasis. After extensive research and trials, they have developed an effective treatment regimen that involves a combination of two readily available substances:

  • Benzyl Benzoate (BBE): An antiparasitic agent that kills jigger fleas
  • Petroleum jelly: A suffocating agent that aids in eliminating the fleas

Treatment Protocol and Its Effectiveness

The treatment protocol involves applying BBE to the affected areas three times a day. Before bedtime, the areas are washed, and petroleum jelly is applied overnight. This treatment regimen has shown remarkable success in clinical trials:

  • In a pilot study in Iganga district, Uganda, 67% of cases showed complete recovery.
  • A second pilot study in Kaabong district, northern Uganda, demonstrated a 94% success rate.

Recommended Treatment Duration and Outcomes

The recommended treatment duration is a minimum of eight days, with twice-daily application of BBE and nightly application of petroleum jelly. Patients typically experience significant improvement within a few days:

  • Itching subsides by day three.
  • Lesions start to dry and crack by day five.
  • Jigger fleas are expelled by day ten.


The combination of BBE and petroleum jelly has emerged as a safe, effective, and affordable treatment for tungiasis. This breakthrough offers a much-needed solution for communities plagued by jigger flea infestations.

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