What is the Oroya fever?

The bacterium "Bartonella bacilliformis" causes the disease "Oroya fever". Infection occurs through transmission of the pathogen through the sand fly. Since the sand fly occurs only in mountain valleys above 800m to 3000m in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, the disease is only there widespread. Primarily, the bacterium lives in erythrocytes (red blood cells), secondary it can also occur in internal organs.
The incubation period is two to three weeks, occasionally it can be up to four months.


The pathogens can cause two different clinical pictures: the acute form (Oroya fever) and a chronic course with skin symptoms. Basically, you can divide the course of the disease into three phases:

  1. The Oroya fever begins with an increase in fever, which is accompanied by lymphadenopathy (disease of the lymph nodes), hepatosplenomegaly (concomitant enlargement of the spleen and liver) and a pronounced malady. Finally, haemolytic anemia (anemia) occurs through destruction of the erythrocytes.
  2. After this phase of the disease, the phase of pronounced immunosuppression begins (this phase used to be mostly fatal because no antibiotic was available).
  3. Two to four months later follows the main phase of the disease, in which the so-called "verruca peruana" (Peru wart) arises. This phase can last for several months.

origin of the name

Between 1870 and 1890 there was an unknown epidemic in Peru, which mainly affected railway workers. They suffered from high fever, weakness and anemia. The disease spread mainly along the railway line between the capital Lima and the place La Oroya and thus had their name.

Discovery of the Oroya fever

In 1881, a young Peruvian medical student died of Oroya fever. He suffered simultaneously from warty rashes. A study friend named Alcides Carrion suspected a connection between the fever and the warts. Inspired by the fate of his friend, Carrion let himself be injected with the blood of a woman suffering from rashes. 22 days later, he discovered the first symptoms (pain, nausea, fever).

A short time later, the pain became so bad that Carrion could not move. Some time later he died of the disease. To this day, he is celebrated for his courage as the national hero of Peru. The causative agent of the henceforth named after him "Carrion's disease" was discovered in 1909 by Alberto Barton and referred to him as "Bartonella bacilliformis".

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