Tickbite-associated chronic pruritic lesions in an Afro-descendant population in the Cauca Department, Colombia. I. Clinical features and impact on health.

During a health survey in a remote area in southwest Colombia, it became apparent that a high percentage of the population suffered from chronic pruritus in association with high numbers of ticks and tickbites.To determine the clinical features and severity of tickbite-associated pruritus.At twotime points - 8 weeks apart to account for seasonal effects - a cross-sectional study was conducted encompassing physical examination of the population, histological analysis of skin biopsies, and determining serum for antibodies against spotted fever (SFG) rickettsiae and typhus group (TG) rickettsiae. Ticks were identified using morphological criteria, and infection by rickettsiae was determined by PCR.About 94.5% of the population (95% CI 92-97%) showed clinical signs of a pruritic arthropod reaction and of chronic pruritus with lichenoid papules and hyper- and hypopigmented nodules on otherwise noninflamed skin. Pruritus markedly impaired the quality of life in terms of sleeping disturbances. No signs for other diseases were observed. Chronic pruritus appeared to be because of repeated tickbites and scratching, but not because of other dermatological or medical conditions. Antibodies against SFG and TG-rickettsiae were detected at 79.0% (95% CI 73-86) and 3.6% (95% CI 0.7-6), respectively. Ticks were identified as Amblyomma cajennense.Remarkably high exposure to tick bites caused an unusually high rate of acute and chronic pruritus and markedly impaired quality of life of the investigated rural community. This underlines the necessity of public health measures and surveillance of rickettsial disease.

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