by Lynne Elson, Susanne Wiese, Hermann Feldmeier, Ulrike Fillinger
Awareness of the public health importance of tungiasis has been growing in East Africa in recent years, but data on epidemiological characteristics necessary for the planning and implementation of control measures do not exist. The work presented here was part of a larger cross-sectional study on the epidemiology of tungiasis in coastal Kenya and aims at identifying risk factors of tungiasis and severe disease in school children.
A total of 1,829 students of all age groups from five schools and 56 classes were clinically examined for tungiasis on their feet based on standardized procedures and observations made about the school infrastructure. To investigate the impact of school holidays, observations were repeated after school holidays in a subset of children in one school. In an embedded case-control study, structured interviews were conducted with 707 students in the five schools to investigate associations between tungiasis and household infrastructure, behaviour and socio-economic status.
The overall prevalence of tungiasis was 48%; children below the age of 15 years were the most affected, and boys were twice as likely as girls to be infected. The highest risk of disease was associated with the socio-economic circumstances of the individual student at home. The study indicated that mild to moderate tungiasis could be reduced by a third, and severe tungiasis by over half, if sleeping places of children had hardened floors, whilst approximately a seventh of the cases could be prevented by sealing classroom floors in schools, and another fifth by using soap for daily feet washing.
There is a clear role for public health workers to expand the WASH policy to include washing of feet with soap in school-aged children to fight tungiasis and to raise awareness of the importance of sealed floors.
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