Dr Lynne Elson


Dr Lynne Elson, PhD, MPH


RESEARCH GROUPS: Tungiasis Epidemiology and Control


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Title of group: Tungiasis Epidemiology and Control My first post-doctoral position was at the National Institutes of Health in USA where I studied immune responses to filarial infections. I continued with this area of research with Case Western Reserve University and KEMRI in Kenya and expanded into neonatal immune responses to parasitic infections. During an extended research career break to work in Public Health in Kenya, I came across tungiasis, a tropical skin disease with an enormous gap in knowledge regarding its ecology, epidemiology and control methods. This led me recently to return to the research arena with a Wellcome Trust Career Re-Entry Fellowship to study Tungiasis. Tungiasis is caused by the adult female of Tunga penetrans (Order Siphonaptera/fleas) which burrows into the skin mostly of the feet, and whose off-host stages (eggs, larvae and pupae) develop in dry dusty soils, including on house floors. Although Tungiasis has been reported from countries throughout the tropics of Africa, Central and South America there is no data on actual national prevalence or distribution. I am currently partnering with nine County Departments of Health across Kenya to determine the prevalence, impact and risk factors for tungiasis among primary school children, the age group most affected. In partnership with icipe, Kenya, University of Berlin, Universite Charite Berlin, Makerere University, Kampala and Prof Amina Abubakar of KWTRP, I am also conducting an in-depth investigation into the ecology of tungiasis and its impact on cognitive development and Quality of Life in Kenya and Uganda. In collaboration with icipe, Kenya, KEMRI-ESACIPAC and LSTMH (BOVA network and SABABU Project) we are developing an affordable hard floor to reduce infection intensity and associated morbidity, as well as reduce the incidence of Soil Transmitted Helminths and diarrheal diseases. We are also piloting a floor spray produced from the leaves of the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), a plant known to have insect growth regulatory properties, to reduce the population of off-host stages of T.penetrans to prevent disease.  My main outputs in the field of tungiasis have been: 
  • A Randomized Controlled Trial using a herbal medicine comprising neem and coconut oils to treat tungiasis.  
Elson L, Randu K, Feldmeier H, Fillinger U. (2019) Efficacy of a mixture of neem seed oil (Azadirachta indica) and coconut oil (Cocos nucifera) for topical treatment of tungiasis. A randomized controlled, proof-of-principle study. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 13(11): e0007822. https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0007822    
  • Risk Factor studies for tungiasis among rural communities and primary schools of Kilifi County, Kenya. 
Wiese S, Elson L, Reichert F, Mambo B, Feldmeier H (2017) Prevalence, intensity and risk factors of tungiasis in Kilifi County, Kenya: I. Results from a community-based study. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 11(10): e0005925. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0005925   Elson L, Wiese S, Feldmeier H, Fillinger U. (2019) Prevalence, intensity and risk factors of tungiasis in Kilifi County, Kenya II: Results from a school-based observational study. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 13(5): e0007326. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0007326   Wiese S, Elson L, Feldmeier H (2018) Tungiasis-related life quality impairment in children living in rural Kenya. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 12(1): e0005939. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0005939  
  • I am a member of an informal Technical Advisory Group to WHO on Tungiasis, who are currently developing a conceptual framework for the control of Tungiasis.