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Jiggers (Chigoe Flea) – The Hidden African Killer

Whilst sitting on a plane after leaving Madagascar on our most recent trip, I felt a sore spot on one of my fingers. A small raised white lump had appeared, with a tiny black dot directly in the middle. I gave it a bit of a squeeze, and it was at this point I realised what it was. So I picked, scratched and squeezed a little more, until eventually out it popped, a bloody Jigger!

The Chigoe Flea or Jigger

These little parasites live in soil and sand, and like nothing more than burrowing head first into the skin of warm blooded hosts.

They are found in many parts or Latin America, as well as Asia, but it is Africa where they are doing the most damage.

The Jigger Starts Out Quite Small at Only 1mm In Length

The Jigger (a Chigoe flea to the educated, or a Tunga Penetrans to those who are that way inclined) starts out quite small, with an adult female measuring only about 1mm in length, but it grows and grows as it continues to feed, with its abdomen filling with eggs. The abdomen of the flea ends up approximatly 5-10mm in width (the size of a small pea). At which point it begins to drop the eggs onto the ground through the small orifice (black dot as described above). These eggs will then hatch, and the cycle starts all over again.

After landing in Reunion Island we went back to our hotel, and I began the search on my feet. The hands are a rare place to have a jigger burrow in, and they are more common in the feet or lower limbs. After all my searching, to my delight I only found one more Madagascan stow away, on the bottom of one of my toe’s. I grabbed a pin and pricked the little bugger out. This one was a little more mature, and left a decent open wound on the bottom of my toe.

It’s been many years since my body has played host to these little parasites, with my last encounter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, way back in 1994. On this occasion, my feet were littered with them, and it took me many painful days to remove them.

Removing a Jigger from my toe

Sorry about the image, but you get the picture. This small white lump is the abdomen full of eggs.

For those people who’ve had the pleasure of picking these little monsters out of there bodies, they will know it’s not to much fun. Depending on their size, they can be quite painful, and the small open wounds left by the exiting flea can become infected and ulcerated, if you’re not careful. This is especially so on the soles of your feet.

After returning home, I began to do a little research on the Chigoe Flea, and it seems these little monsters have been causing quite a bit of damage to people lives in many parts of the world, but especially in sub-saharan Africa.

There are many villages that have been completely infested with them, and mass infections have rendered people unable to walk, and in more serious cases people are dying from these little monsters.

Jiggers Have Been Causing Pain & Suffering To Many in Africa

A recent article in the Washington Post pointed out the missery that the Chigoe Flea is causing to the people of Uganda, with 20 dead and 20,000 seriously infected. There is also a great web page run by Ahadi Kenya Trust, that has all sorts of details on the Jigger and how you can help by donating to there program to eradicate Jiggers in Kenya.

[Update] – A new online charity organisation called ‘See The Difference’ has a program that you can donate to. They state that for 1 Pound you can remove the Jiggers from a childs feet. You can donate here.

This short youtube video, show’s just how menacing the Jigger can be, and the pain that many African families are suffering, due to the Chigoe Flea.

A Little More About The Author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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  1. William says:

    These are also incredibly common and damaging in Kenya. http://www.killthejigger.org/ is an organization devoted to fighting jiggers in Kenya. I warn you before you watch any of their videos, they are not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

  2. Eugenia says:

    Hi all, its Great to see people care. I would like to add that chigoe flea is an introduced parasite to Africa from Americas and as such is hard to deal with – just like any other introduced species. Every NGO in Africa should deal with them and then with good help to ill, disabled and elderly, whom find it hard to take females out (hence spreading infection). Charity Whisper operating in Uganda, @whisperorphans, achieved a lot in their outreach program, very good videos on their website, too.

  3. Grace says:

    Fm Uganda As a First hand experience at 5 had seen my gmother sweep away dust, then got “cowdung” mix with ash and coated the floor inside and outside the house periodically to keep dust away because they seemed to grow fast plus warm temperatures at least that was her explanation regarding JIGGERS
    Cleaned feet and inspected daily if found jiggers, she would take it out using a safety pin then poured kerosene for treating the wound. But the almost sweet like itching will keep the victim up. I’m almost surprised that the flea still exist!! Thanks Jason for all the work you have done
    Grace B

  4. passie says:

    I’m sorry that you get terrorised by these parasites esp. as visitors in my country in Uganda. i just checked here on jiggers after we’ve been chatting with my God parents about our child hood days when we lived in villages, my God father confessed having been infected by jiggers when he was still young. i also shared of how they had terrorised our family around the year 1997 and they could be all over my baby brother’s body “even his private parts!” however my mother was so serious on checking us especially the little ones ( i was 5) , bathing us and smearing us with some petroleum jerry.
    with our elder siblings they had it tough though cause they waited until the jiggers grew in them and i could see them crying over the pain of removing them! But since then for my family it’s been a legend until this month when my Grandpa’s burial brought all relatives among which was my paternal aunt and her children who had jiggers and the kids could not sleep because of the itching of the jiggers in their feet!

  5. Laura says:

    Here’s another organization that is helping with this: https://www.facebook.com/solehope?fref=photo I’d never heard of a jigger until I read a friend’s post and that’s how I found your blog. Great information!

  6. Lisa says:

    Just read a blog by one who is in Uganda now, helping with jigger removal. The organization that is helping with this desperate effort is Sole Hope.

  7. Jan says:

    Hi, I was in Uganda again the first week in November and today 5 days after I came back home in Belgium, my wife toke out the last 2 Jiggers.She toke out about 15, some of them under the nails.
    My wife who is a Ugandan knows how to deal with it, but I can asure you it was very painfull.

  8. Bobby says:

    Hi All,

    I am so sorry to hear the issues that these Parasites are causing. I am wondering if this could be the problem I have been suffering for years. I have some kind of parasites under my skin.that comes out with the right oils and I believe they cause the ring in my ear. Also I have some kind of Fungal Infection that has been caused by whatever Parasites these are. I add the oil and little speks come out of my skin but I also see what looks like fleas. I also have issues with my eyes which is from a parasite. Crazy Stuff!!! I am.in Southern California by Disneyland.

  9. veronica says:

    jiggers are horrible… i could not sleep properly…now i paint them al have my first exhibition this saturday in nairobi,kenya

  10. Drü says:

    We would love the support of any who care about the plight of jiggers in Uganda! Please check out solehope.org, follow us on FaceBook and Twitter. The problem is great, but there is HOPE!

  11. Wabugwa Paul David says:

    Jiggers are real they have killed many people in uganda not sparing my own uncle and many other villagers!These parasites are a night mare to thousands of ugandans. I have decided as an individual with welwishers to fight back until my country will be declared free from jiggers by God’s grace. If u can join me in this struggle kindly contact me with your gift.

    • Jason says:

      Agreed Wabugwa, they have certainly created a mess in many people lives.

    • Peete Muthee Nguah says:

      Hi iam a Kenyan living in Germany iam studying PODOLOGY foot specialis but Podology is specialized in diabetes patients the diabetes foot syndrome..iam jus finishing and I would like to come buck home and help on jiggers coz ..I know I can play a big part in the war aginst jiggers and help my people…plz kontack me on my email:pet emu thee@yahoo.com

  12. fredd gudda says:

    I am a master student in environment and health in Kenya and from my massive and great research on the pest I assure you that the infestation is a reality in this parts of Africa.The pest leads to encouragement of vicious cycle of poverty,ill health ,low productivity and increase of HIV/AIDS due to sharing of instruments for removal of the parasite among family members.This is a great health menace in Central and parts of Western Kenya hence the need for immediate remedies from all stakeholders.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Fred, It’s saddens me to hear this and the transmitting of HIV and other diseases between family members is something that I never thought of. Thanks for your input.

  13. Zaara says:

    Nice work Jason.
    I come frm Kenya,I once had them jiggers;irritating things I must say.
    I discovered the medicine used to kill head lice is very appropriate for killing these jiggers.
    It’s just applied on the surface infested with the jigger(s) and after some time,the thing pops out…
    The medicine goes by the name,Liceoma.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Zaara, Thanks for sharing the remedy for treating these little buggers. I’m off to Africa again early in the new year and I’ll be sure to give the Head Lice treatment ago if I have another run in with them. Safe travels and thanks for your input…

    • Achilera says:

      Thank you so much for sharing the remedy for this little bugs. Jason is also doing a good job but I humbly request to know where I can buy the liceoma I have a relative whose feet are infested by jiggers and I have looked for this remedy in many pharmacies here in Nairobi but I am unable to find it.Help me please.

  14. Jessica says:

    This is something. Never heard of before that’s weird

    • Jason says:

      Hey Jessica, Yes there very real and a little weird. Certainly something you don’t want to be crawling around and infesting your body…

  15. sean omalley says:

    I am told that dilute solutions of Potassium Permanganate are effective in treating skin that has been perforated by the Jigger flea

  16. jaco says:

    Am from uganda, I myself was a victim of this painful parasite from the age of 1 up to 18yrs and I can give you my word, it is self confidence threatening because the more it penetrates your feet, the feet start to change shape and you start to walk as if you are disabled. I read jasons article with disbelief on how a white man can get the experience of a jigger and there is nothing the government of uganda has done to relieve the local people down here.

    In my village, almost 70 out of 100 people from the age of 1-20 are jigger victims and there is nothing much I as a victim can do to help my fellows except calling every victim every sunday so that we can try to pin the flea out but without the medication to apply in the feet, the flea takes the same chance of penetrating the wound rather. Jason, any help will be grateful. Am by names robert: jinja uganda.

    • Jason says:

      Hi Robert, I am sorry to hear what this nasty parasite has done to your village. The pain and suffering on a physical sense is bad enough but I did not even come to think of the self confidence issue that you raised. I was contacted by a charity organization called ‘Seeing the Difference’ to which I made a donation to help eradicate this parasite in Kenya (sorry Robert they are not operating in Uganda). I appreciate your honesty on the subject and further informing the readers as to the misery this parasite can cause.

    • sammy says:

      It is sad what is going on, but after looking at the figures in the reports of various organizations, I developed a product that so far gives very good response in three days and now the hard part of getting the relevant authorities to adopt it begins. lets hope it comes up fast, otherwise it is a very low cost remedy basically available at roughly 1.2usd .

      I am in Kenya, and I believe before year end something should out to assist. I am also working on [with a team] a standard way of controlling the menace so as to avoid re infestation. Otherwise at the moment I just hope the victims dont have to wait for too long.

    • Jason says:

      Hi Sammy, It’s just a horrible, horrible parasite. I wish you luck with your remedy.I suppose even at a cost of $1.20. It’s still out of reach of many of the poorest people of whom are most greatly affected. Good luck….

  17. Following the sufferings people are going through due to this small but worrying parasite,what is the immediate course of action to be done to ensure the problem is solved keeping in mind that it was created by GOD to survive?

  18. Cherie says:

    i am currently on a project writing about the medication for people infected by the jiggers here in Kenya, there is a project going on with social workers on the ground i realy hope we find a long term solution once and for all..and good work champ

  19. *SHUDDER*
    I am going to have a panic attack when I have to deal with my first burrowing “friend”. I’m already freaked out about bot flies when we head south… I have luckily avoided these guys (called chiggers ’round these parts).

    • Jason says:

      I’ve read about the Bot flies, but thankfully I’ve never had to deal with them. I think the ‘Chigger’ you describe above is actually a ‘Harvest Mite’, that is found in Southern and Mid Western United States, and often gets confused with the ‘Jigger’ or Chigoe Flea as described in my post. Thanks for stopping by and good luck as you make your way South.

  20. Dom (seethedifference.org) says:

    Jason – we discovered your knowledge and passion for jiggers via twitter, we thought you might be interested in this jiggers project … http://www.seethedifference.org/charities/ace-africa/jiggers-foot-treatments-in-kenya I hope your happily living jiggers free these days ! dom and the see the difference gang

    • Jason says:

      Thanks for letting people know about the ‘See The Difference’ project to eradicate jiggers from Kenya. I just donated, and I will update the post and place a link to your charity.

  21. jiggers are nasty, and they are hard to control, the best thing is to avoid the infested areas

  22. Wow….that’s intense. I was bitten by sand fleas (in Belize) and it was awful in that it was so itchy (felt like ripping my skin off) and lasted for several weeks. But…after reading this post, I see that it didn’t even come close to your experience with the jiggers. While the sand fleas (aka, “no-see-ums’) were super annoying, what you dealt with is much worse because they’re egg-laying parasites.

    I really feel for the people in the video; how awful it must be to have an entire foot infested with jiggers. Glad to see that there’s a program in place to help them.

    • Good point. There is a lot of pain and suffering there. My heart goes out to them.

    • Jason says:

      Thanks for your comment Zablon. From my brief knowledge of them, it sounds like your on the money. If you know an area is infested, then stay away, because there just so hard to control. Thanks for your input.

    • Jason says:

      This time around, the couple I found were not to much to worry about, nothing like my initiation to the Jigger, many years ago. All this pales into insignificance, when you see the pain and suffering they are causing in Africa.

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