Neurological Manifestations of Scrub Typhus

Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2022 Jun 21. doi: 10.1007/s11910-022-01215-5. Online ahead of print.


Purpose of review: The occurrence of cases of scrub typhus is on the rise in South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. The present review discusses neurological complications following scrub typhus to appraise clinicians practicing in endemic regions about considering this treatable disease in the differential diagnosis of acute febrile illnesses, especially when accompanied with clinical neurological features.

Recent findings: While the association of aseptic meningitis, encephalitis, and meningoencephalitis with scrub typhus is well known, more recently described neurological syndromes associated with scrub typhus include acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, various cranial nerve palsies, cerebellitis, cerebrovascular diseases including cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, transverse myelitis, longitudinally extensive transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome, parkinsonism, and many more. Early diagnosis is key to successful treatment. While diagnostic confirmation is generally made by the detection of IgM antibody by either ELISA or indirect fluorescent antibody tests, conventional PCR using 56 kDa gene (cPCR) and loop-mediated isothermal amplification assay (LAMP assay), as well as a newly introduced metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS), are currently available for detection of Orientia tsutsugamushi infection in clinically suspected cases. Scrub typhus is an acute febrile illness caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi. The cutaneous hallmark of the disease is the "eschar." Scrub typhus results in multisystem involvement. Neurological compromise is present in about 20% of scrub typhus patients and affects both the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The postulated underlying mechanisms include direct invasion of the organism, a vasculitis-like process, or an immune-mediated injury. Diagnosis of scrub typhus is confirmed by detection of O. tsutsugamushi IgM antibody in serum. Awareness among clinicians regarding the varied presentations of this disease is very important in order to reduce morbidity and mortality. Co-infection with dengue and/or chickungunya viruses may occur in endemic regions. The history of an acute febrile illness preceding the neurological illness is crucial. A very careful search for the eschar is essential; however, the absence of the skin lesion cannot exclude the diagnosis of scrub typhus. Neurological manifestations mostly respond to doxycycline therapy.

Keywords: Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis; Encephalitis; Guillain-Barré syndrome; Meningitis; Neurological complications; Opsoclonus-myoclonus; Parkinsonism; Scrub typhus; Stroke; Transverse myelitis.

Publication types

  • Review