Scrub typhus: A deadly bacterial disease on the rise in India

An in-depth look at the signs, diagnosis and treatment options


In a recent outbreak in India, scrub typhus has surged, claiming at least five lives and infecting over 700 people. This infectious disease, transmitted through chigger mite bites, has affected various regions in the Bargarh district of Odisha. While patients diagnosed outside the district are recovering, public health officials emphasise the heightened risk for those frequently visiting farmlands or forests. 

Scrub typhus cases have also been identified in Keonjhar, Nabarangpur, and Sundergarh districts, warranting vigilance and preventive measures.

2283641601 Scrub typhus is spread to people through bites of infected chigger mites | Shutterstock

Recognising its symptoms, seeking timely diagnosis and treatment, and adopting preventive measures are essential steps in combatting this public health threat. By staying informed and taking appropriate precautions, individuals can reduce the risk of scrub typhus and contribute to their own well-being and that of their communities.


Scrub typhus presents a range of symptoms, with severity varying from mild to life-threatening. Common signs to watch for include:

Fever and chills: Patients often experience a high fever accompanied by chills, which can persist for several days.
Headache: Severe headaches are a hallmark symptom of scrub typhus, causing significant discomfort.
Body aches and muscle pain: Patients may complain of body aches and muscle pain, further contributing to their discomfort.
Eschar formation: A distinctive feature of scrub typhus is the development of a dark, scab-like wound at the site of the chigger bite, known as an eschar.
Mental changes: In severe cases, individuals may exhibit mental changes, ranging from confusion to coma.
Enlarged lymph nodes: Swelling of lymph nodes can occur, adding to the list of concerning symptoms.
Rash: Patients might develop red spots or rashes on their bodies, often accompanied by red eyes and gastrointestinal issues.

It's essential to note that these symptoms typically manifest approximately ten days after infection. If left untreated, scrub typhus can lead to multiple organ failure or other life-threatening complications.

Diagnosis and treatment:


Diagnosing scrub typhus can be challenging due to its similarity to other illnesses. To confirm the infection, healthcare providers may conduct an ELISA test, particularly if the patient experiences persistent fever. Fortunately, this test is readily available at district public health laboratories in the state.

The most effective treatment for scrub typhus is the antibiotic doxycycline, suitable for patients of all ages. Administering antibiotics early in the course of the disease can lead to a swift recovery. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial for a positive outcome.