Background: Tungiasis is highly prevalent in low-and middle-income countries but remains often under diagnosed and untreated eventually leading to chronic sequels. The objective of the study was to assess whether tungiasis-associated inflammation can be detected and quantified by high-resolution infrared thermography (HRIT) and whether after removal of the parasite inflammation resolves rapidly.
Methods: Patients with tungiasis were identified through active case finding. Clinical examination, staging, and thermal imaging as well as conventional photography were performed. In exemplary cases, the embedded sandfly was extracted and regression of inflammation was assessed by thermal imaging 4 days after extraction.
Results: The median perilesional temperature was significantly higher than the median temperature of the affected foot (rho = 0.480, p = 0.003). Median perilesional temperature measured by high-resolution infrared thermography was positively associated with the degree of pain (rho = 0.395, p <0.017) and semi-quantitative scores for acute (rho = 0.380, p <0.022) and chronic (rho = 0.337, p <0.044) clinical pathology. Four days after surgical extraction, inflammation and hyperthermia of the affected area regressed significantly (rho = 0.457, p = 0.005). In single cases, when clinical examination was difficult, lesions were identified through HRIT.
Conclusion: We proved that HRIT is a useful tool to assess tungiasis-associated morbidity as well as regression of clinical pathology after treatment. Additionally, HRIT might help to diagnose hidden and atypical manifestations of tungiasis. Our findings, although still preliminary, suggest that HRIT could be used for a range of infectious skin diseases prevalent in the tropics.