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Bacterial superinfection in human tungiasis.

Tungiasis is caused by penetration of the female sand flea Tunga penetrans into the epidermis of its host. It is endemic in many countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa. Although superinfection is a common clinical observation, the frequency and the pattern of bacterial pathogens associated with tungiasis have never been investigated systematically. We conducted a prospective clinico-bacteriological study with patients living in a shantytown in Fortaleza, capital of Ceará State (Northeast Brazil), where tungiasis is hyperendemic. Swabs were taken from 78 patients with multiple lesions after surgical extraction of the parasite, and the specimens were cultured for aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms. Ninety-nine specimens were investigated for aerobic bacteria, from which 146 pathogens were identified. The most common species were Staphyloccous aureus (35.5%) and various enterobacteriaceae (29.5%). Bacillus sp., Enteroccous faecalis, Streptococcus pyogenes and Pseudomonas sp. were also isolated. Eighty-four anaerobic cultures yielded 20 pathogens: in eight cases we detected Peptostreptococcus sp., in seven cases Clostridium sp., and in five cases non-identifiable gram-negative bacilli. These results show that secondary infection is very common in tungiasis, and caused by a variety of highly pathogenic microorganisms. It is proposed that T. penetrans acts as a foreign body facilitating biofilm formation within the epidermis. To prevent spreading of pathogens to the surrounding tissue and/or the systemic circulation, sand fleas should be surgically extracted immediately after penetration.

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