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BackgroundScrub typhus is a significant tropical disease, occurring in rural settings and therefore usually afflicting remote agricultural populations who have lower socioeconomic status and limited access to medical care. A large proportion of the hill tribe people in Thailand are financially poor, have limited education, and do not have adequate health care access. This study aimed to estimate the prevalence of and determine factors associated with scrub typhus exposure among the hill tribe population living in high-incidence areas in northern Thailand.MethodsA cross-sectional study design was used to gather information from hill tribe people aged 18 years and over living in ten hill tribe villages in Mae Fah Luang, Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. Participants who met the inclusion criteria were invited to participate in the study. A validated questionnaire was used as the research instrument, and 5 mL blood samples were taken. Orientia tsutsugamushi IgM and IgG antibodies were detected by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and then confirmed by immunofluorescence assay (IFA). Logistic regression was used to detect associations between variables at a significance level of α = 0.05.ResultsA total of 485 hill tribe people participated in the study; 57.1% were female, 29.9% were over 60 years of age, 46.4% were from the Akha tribe, and 74.2% had never attended school. The overall prevalence of scrub typhus exposure was 48.0%. In the multivariate model, five variables were found to be associated with scrub typhus exposure. Participants aged over 60 years had a 4.31-fold increased risk (95% CI = 1.73-10.72) of scrub typhus exposure compared to those who were younger than 30 years. Those who were illiterate had a 3.46-fold increased risk (95% CI = 1.93-6.21) of scrub typhus exposure than those who had at least a primary education level. Participants from the Akha tribe had a 2.20-fold increased risk (95% CI = 1.31-3.72) of scrub typhus exposure than those from the Lahu tribe. Subjects who had a history of cutting grass had a 1.85-fold increased risk (95% CI = 1.20-2.84) of scrub typhus exposure. Those who never wore gloves for farming had a 2.12-fold increased risk (95% CI = 1.28-3.49) of scrub typhus exposure than those who wore gloves daily.ConclusionsThere is a high prevalence of scrub typhus exposure among the hill tribe in Thailand. Effective public health interventions to promote scrub typhus awareness and prevention are urgently needed in these populations.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC public health

Publication Date





School of Health Science, Mae Fah Luang University, Chiang Rai, Thailand.


Humans, Scrub Typhus, Incidence, Prevalence, Cross-Sectional Studies, Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Middle Aged, Thailand, Female, Male