It is 150 years since a British Ship brought jiggers into the continent of Africa from South America in a sand ballast that was offloaded at Ambriz in Angola. The appearance and movement of any historical event can be traced through documents written during the era. History shows that jigger fleas (Sarcopsylla penetrans) were unknown in Africa.
What is Jiggers?
Jiggers are small chigoe fleas that live in the dust, and are found on the dirt floors in schools and the homes of many families and other similar climates. Jiggers can also cause lymphangitis, gangrene, sepsis, and the loss of toenails, amputation of the digits, and death may also occur.
Record of jiggers in Africa Land
In 1525, Gonzalez Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdés encountered them, and discussed the skin infection and its symptoms on crew members from Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria after they were shipwrecked in Haiti. Ships traversed the Atlantic for centuries, and jiggers were likely introduced in small numbers to various places. But the jiggers’ main foothold in Africa is associated with a specific ship, the Thomas Mitchell ship (pictured), which came to Ambriz, Angola in 1872.
The crew were reportedly infested with jiggers and spread them by walking on shore. Other accounts say the ship dumped the sand ballast on shore (against regulations). Sandy soil is the favorite environment for jiggers. From Angola, the parasite spread inland by trade routes, assisted by Europeans exploring the interior, such as Stanley (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”) in 1888.
- It was recorded in Nyasaland (now Malawi) in 1891
- On the coast of Mozambique in 1895. 3.It was found on Madagascar in 1899.
- In 1899 it turned up in Calcutta, India.
- In 1900 it was incapacitating native soldiers in Uganda.
- It was mentioned to be in Sudan in 1906,.
- In Transvaal (South Africa) in 1912 .
- The Seychelles in 1914.
- A document in 1924 noted its’ appearance in Kenya.
Isolated instances of jiggers may have occurred in various countries before 1872, but that is when widespread infestation of Africa aroused public notice.