x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Possible new Typhus strain may have originated in Dubai

Australian scientist suspects patient contracted a new form of the disease at a UAE horse farm.

DUBAI // A tourist who contracted typhus while visiting Dubai four years ago could be the first recorded case of a new strain of the disease.

In a paper published in the December edition of the Journal of Clinical Biology, Australian scientists even named the strain after the emirate where it appeared to originate: Orientia chuto Dubai.

“As soon as that lady came through with an interesting case, I thought we would look into this a bit further,” said Dr John Stenos, a senior scientist at the Australian Rickettsial Reference Laboratory in Victoria.

“We found it to be very unique. It’s very divergent and it’s far away enough to be its own species.”

The strain, which has so far only been uncovered in the UAE, is believed to be unique. The infection can be transmitted by the bite of what is known as a chigger mite and is normally found in areas of heavy scrub vegetation.

It was back in July 2006 when an Australian woman noticed a bite on her body after visiting stables in Dubai. Sixteen days later, she was experiencing acute muscle pain, fever and headache and upon returning to Australia, and checked herself into a hospital.

It is believed she was bitten by a chigger mite while sitting on a barrel of hay in the stables, which had since been dismantled, Dr Stenos said.

“She just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

Upon analysis, it was discovered that the genetic composition of the infection was unique and unlike that commonly found in other areas of the world.

The most common kind of scrub typhus, named Orientia tsutsugamushi, is found within a triangle that stretches from Japan to Pakistan. It is typically only found in tropical areas with a high level of humidity. The nearest recorded infection is 500km away from Dubai.

Dr Stenos said that he had been looking for collaborators in Dubai to find whether or not the species was unique to the Emirates.

He said that his own suspicions were that the mites were brought in somehow with the hay, but being unable to reach the owner of the stables, he was at a loss as to where the original species came from.

“Dubai’s climate is quite dry and hot,” said Dr Stenos. “They need a humid, perhaps tropical, environment. It’s hard to believe that it would be endemic there. We believe that it has been imported somehow. But from where, we don’t know.”

Dr Syeda Nusheen, a specialist microbiologist at Prime Healthcare Group in Dubai, said the majority of infections in the UAE came from abroad, said .

“I haven’t seen any unique species of scrub typhus here,” she said. “Maybe it was the only one.”

mcroucher@thenational.ae