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Dr Lynne Elson

Dr Lynne Elson

Podcast interview

Tungiasis, a neglected tropical skin disease

Tungiasis is a neglected tropical skin disease caused by the sand flea Tunga penetrans which burrows into the skin. Limited clinical trials have shown that neem and coconut oils cause the fleas to age prematurely, and that silicon-based oils can kill the fleas effectively. More research is needed to develop interventions to control and treat the disease.

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Lynne Elson

Career Re-Entry Fellow


Lynne recently joined the department on a Career Re-Entry Fellowship from Wellcome Trust to study the epidemiology of tungiasis in Kenya. She chose to return to research after an 18-year break working in Public Health in Kenya having come across large numbers of people suffering from the parasitic sand flea, Tunga penetrans, and yet little was being done to control it. While it is clear individuals suffer immensely, the actual scale of the problem is unknown. In Kenya, the government estimates 2 million people are infected, and reports are seen from throughout the country, and yet no formal surveillance has ever been conducted.

Lynne’s new project, funded by Wellcome Trust, will attempt to address this gap through a school-based national prevalence survey. Embedded in the study will be assessments of the impact of the disease on pathology, quality of life, school attendance and performance, as well as a risk factor survey.

In a second, DFG-funded project, Lynne collaborates with other scientists at KEMRI-Wellcome Trust, icipe in Kenya, Makerere University in Uganda, Charite University and the University of Berlin to look in depth at the risk factors and impact of the disease, particularly social and psychological aspects of risk and outcomes.

An on-going study funded by the GCRF-BOVA Network pump-prime grants, endeavours to develop an affordable hard floor to prevent the development of the off-host stages of the flea.

Clinical trial on Tungiasis
How to improve feet hygiene