How to Know if You Have Jungle Rot

Three Parts:Recognizing Primary SymptomsChecking for Secondary SymptomsMinimizing Risk Factors

Jungle rot, also known as a tropical ulcer, is a painful and debilitating bacterial infection. The infection is caused by a combination of anaerobic and spiral bacteria, among others.[1] If you have jungle rot, you’ll see a sore or lesion at the site of a small, previously received wound on your leg or foot. The wound will become inflamed, sore, and painful. The pustules that form will exude a stinky pus. If you have jungle rot, consult a medical professional immediately.

Part 1
Recognizing Primary Symptoms

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    Look for irritation at the site of a small wound.[2] Jungle rot makes its home in wounds you already received. Tropical ulcers never occur in large wounds, only in small ones. Inflammation of the skin will begin soon after the wound is infected, starting small but increasing quickly in size. You’ll first notice a papule (lesion) that is raised slightly and brown, red, or pink in color.
    • By the fifth or sixth day, a pustule about one centimeter in diameter will develop on the site of the initial wound.
    • The affected skin might be reddened, itchy, and scaly.
    • As the inflammation continues, part of the skin will progress from a rash that's itchy and scaly to dry and peeling.
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    Check for an ulcer.[3] An ulcer is a serious sore or lesion accompanied by a breakdown of nearby tissue. On your feet or legs, the ulcer will cause severe tissue damage, bleeding, and possibly a grayish slough (a layer of dead tissue separated from the rest of your skin).[4] The center of the ulcer might be yellow or red.
    • It might be oval or round in shape.
    • If you have jungle rot, your ulcer could be from half an inch to thirteen inches in diameter. Your ulcer's size will depend on your overall health and nutrition. The healthier you are, the less serious your ulcer will be.
    • The ulcer will grow quickly during the first three weeks, then slow in growth until it reaches its maximum size after about six weeks.
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    Recognize when you feel pain.[5] The first two to three weeks of jungle rot are the most painful. Walking and standing might become nearly impossible due to the pain.
    • In severe cases, there is marked disability where one is unable to walk. This may occur when the infection spreads to the tendon, sheath and the bones.
    • You can relieve pain with adequate bandaging. Use a non-adhesive dressing and change it daily. Wash the wound with clean water between dressings and pat dry.[6]
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    Check for a foul smell.[7] When the pustules burst, they exude a stinky mixture of blood and pus. In the later stages of the disease, a foul smell might also indicate that your muscle tissues have begun to rot and die.
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    See a doctor. Since tropical ulcers can be confused with other types of ulcers, it’s best to be sure that you actually have a tropical ulcer by getting a medical diagnosis.[8] To confirm that you have a tropical ulcer, the doctor will need to make a visual inspection of the wound and conduct a bacteriology test by taking a skin swab.
    • If you are diagnosed with tropical ulcers, the doctor will prescribe powerful antibiotics to help you combat the bacteria. Follow the doctor’s advice and use your prescription as directed.

Part 2
Checking for Secondary Symptoms

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    Look out for tetanus.[9] Tetanus -- also known as lockjaw -- is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system. Tetanus causes painful muscle contractions, especially in the jaw, and can affect your ability to breathe. Stay aware of signs that you might have tetanus, including:[10]
    • difficulty swallowing
    • spasms that last several minutes
    • stiffness in the neck or jaw
    • fever
    • high blood pressure
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    Check for ruptured tendons.[11] The Achilles tendon -- a tendon connecting your heel to the muscles in your calf -- is often at special risk for rupture during an infection of jungle rot. Ruptured tendons can be identified by hearing or feeling a pop or snap in your calf followed quickly by a terrible pain in your leg or ankle. With a ruptured tendon, you will be unable to walk properly or put a normal amount of weight on the leg.[12]
    • Most cases of ruptured tendons require surgery. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you’ve ruptured a tendon.
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    Look for gangrene.[13] As the tropical ulcer progresses, it might lead to gangrene, a medical condition characterized by the death of tissue due to infection. If you suspect you have gangrene, contact a medical professional immediately for treatment. Your ulcer might have become gangrenous if:[14]
    • You have extreme pain in your affected limb followed by a period of numbness
    • Your skin near the ulcer is deeply discolored and appears bruised. It might be red, purple, black, blue, or bronze in color.
    • Your skin is pale, hard, numb, or cold.
    • You have an extreme fever and/or low blood pressure in addition to any of the above symptoms.
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    Look for oedema.[15] Oedema is buildup of bodily fluid that causes the skin to swell and become discolored.[16] If you notice yourself accumulating weight in your legs or feet, experiencing stiffness in your joints, or feeling aches and pains in your legs, you probably have oedema. Coupled with related symptoms, this probably indicates a case of tropical ulcers.
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    Look for hyperpigmentation.[17] Hyperpigmentation is the darkening of skin in uneven patches.[18] You might notice the skin around your ulcer becomes discolored and darker than the rest of the surrounding skin. This is usually temporary, but could last for several months.
    • The amount of time the hyperpigmentation lasts varies from person to person.

Part 3
Minimizing Risk Factors

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    Use caution when traveling to tropical regions.[19] As their name implies, tropical ulcers are found in the hot, tropical regions of the world. Most of Africa and South America host the bacterium that cause tropical ulcers, as does India, Pakistan, Iran, and Southeast Asia. When traveling to these areas, steer clear of forests and jungles, as well as marshes and swamps.
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    Stay out of mud and puddles.[20] The bacteria that cause tropical ulcers thrive in dirty water. Do not step in mud and puddles. Instead, walk around them to avoid contact.
    • If you do get mud splashed on you, wipe it off immediately.
    • Those who live near the river or streams, farmers who work in rice paddies, and those who live in slum areas are at risk of developing tropical ulcers.
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    Treat wounds immediately. Exposing wounds to the elements can increase your risk for infection. Rinse the wound with clean water. Apply a topical antibiotic to the wound site and wrap it in clean bandages. For more serious wounds, consult a doctor.
    • Take special care with injuries to the legs and feet, since 90% of all tropical ulcers develop below the knee.[21]
    • It is then best to keep the area clean and dry at all costs -- especially in cases of burns.
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    Protect your legs and feet.[22] Walking about barefoot puts you at higher risk for tropical ulcers, since the bacteria that cause it usually invade through wounds in your legs or feet. Plus, wearing adequate footwear decreases the chances that you’ll receive a wound that the jungle rot bacteria can take advantage of. The bacteria that cause tropical ulcers can also spread from one person to another if the two individuals both walk about barefoot on a shared floor.
    • Wear clean socks and well-fitting shoes.
    • Additionally, wear pants that extend to the ankle.
    • Avoid wearing shorts.
    • Keep your feet dry. Do not walk in wet shoes for any significant distance. If your shoes get wet, remove them and allow them to dry.
    • Do not share clothes or shoes with others.
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    Maintain your health. Malnutrition and general poor health are known to contribute to the development of tropical ulcers. Ill health can compromise your immune system and leave you vulnerable to the bacteria that cause tropical ulcers. To prevent this, eat a healthy diet each day of around 2,000 calories. Your diet should consist primarily of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, with a small amount of lean protein from beans, seeds, or nuts. Engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
    • Eat a bit less than 2,000 calories each day if you are not very active. Eat a bit more than 2,000 calories each day if you are very active.
    • Individuals with compromised immune systems (including individuals HIV and AIDS, and individuals undergoing cancer treatments) are at greater risk of getting tropical ulcers.


  • Jungle rot is very serious. If you suspect you have jungle rot, contact a doctor immediately.
  • If not treated right away, the bacterium can reach muscle tissues, tendons, and bones.
  • In worst-case scenarios where the infection can’t be controlled, amputation will be the only solution.

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Categories: Feet Knees and Legs