Why is Himachal seeing a spike in scrub typhus? Its weather trajectory holds the answer

Excessive rains this year due to changing weather patterns have led to proliferation of mites that cause scrub typhus in state

By Rohit Prashar
Published: Tuesday 26 September 2023
The scene at a Shimla hospital. Photo: Rohit Prashar__

Record-breaking rainfall in Himachal Pradesh this year caused due to climate change is responsible for the spike in scrub typhus cases across the state, experts have told Down To Earth (DTE).

The hill state in the north of the country has received 816 millimetres (mm) rainfall from June 1 to August 31 this year, according to data from the India Meteorological Department. This is 33 per cent more than the 613 mm that it usually receives.

Experts told DTE that excessive humidity due to high rainfall provided good conditions for the growth of mites known as ‘chiggers’. They are a vector for Orientia tsutsugamushi, the pathogen responsible for causing scrub typhus.

Himachal has recorded over 1,000 cases of the disease in 2023, twice the number recorded last year. Fifteen people have died due to scrub typhus in the state so far.

“As temperature and humidity increase, cases of scrub typhus also spike. People should immediately seek medical advice if they experience symptoms of the disease,” local epidemiologist Umesh Bharti told DTE.

“Last year, we had published a study titled Health in Changing Climate: Study of Shimla District. We found an increase in diseases, especially scrub typhus, due to changes in the weather,” he added.

State Health Minister Colonel Dhaniram Shandil said health institutions had been instructed to make necessary arrangements for dealing with the outbreak.

Rahul Rai, senior medical superintendent of Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC), the state’s largest hospital, said 23 people were tested on September 25. Five of them were positive. IGMC has tested 1,307 people so far, of whom 408 have been found to be infected.

Symptoms of scrub typhus include headache, fever along with joint pain, body ache, shivering and red rashes on the body and lethargy. If such symptoms manifest themselves in a person, they should immediately consult a doctor. 

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