Improving scabies treatment

22 September 2019

Dr Maryann Heather (left) spoke at the symposium about the impact of scabies on the Pasifika community.

A symposium to highlight the seriousness of scabies and boost treatment of the disease was held at the University of Auckland in association with FIZZ (Fighting Sugar in Soft Drinks) on September 13. Dr Maryann Heather of SouthSeas Healthcare was among the speakers at the symposium to discuss ways that diagnosis of scabies can be improved, how treatment can be improved, what is known about the biology of the disease, and whether scabies should be considered as a disease of public health importance.

Dr Heather spoke about the experience of scabies in the Pasifika community.

“Scabies is a challenge to diagnose and manage, as many of the Pacific families present frequently in primary care with skin infections or it is an incidental finding. It can affect all ages in our community and the other complicating factors include large families, overcrowding, poverty, low socioeconomic status, in addition to concurrent medical conditions including dermatitis/eczema, impetigo, cellulitis, poor skin conditions and skin infections stemming from injuries. It is a major concern for the community and especially in this vulnerable, high-risk population.”

Scabies is known to be endemic in many Pacific Island nations.

Keynote speaker Dr Daniel Engelman, a Clinician-Scientist Research Fellow in Tropical Diseases at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, has studied the disease extensively in the Pacific.

Dr Engelman spoke about his research on infectious diseases that affect disadvantaged populations and perpetuate inequity and poverty. In addition to on-going work on rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, Dr Engelman is a leader in regional and global efforts to control the burden of neglected tropical diseases affecting the skin, including scabies and impetigo.

Dr Simon Thornley of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Auckland spoke about scabies and how it is strongly linked to diseases such as bacterial skin infection, post-streptococcal kidney disease and acute rheumatic fever.

The speakers at the symposium presented various views on improving scabies control based on research and how it is associated with rheumatic fever and chronic rheumatic heart disease. Others compared scabies and impetigo to be commonly linked with the consensus that practitioners and the health system could do a lot better to recognise and control the disease.

The symposium ‘Improving Scabies Treatment: A Path to Health Equity in New Zealand’ looked at how common the disease is and why it should be taken more seriously.

Scabies is an itchy rash caused by a mite that burrows under the skin. It is transmitted by skin contact and sometimes through bedding or furnishing. Dr Thornley says scabies is known to be endemic in many Pacific Island nations, so this is likely to be part of the reason that there are high rates of prescribing for the disease in South Auckland.

“We hope the symposium will raise awareness of the need to improve scabies treatment in NZ, given the strong link between scabies infestation and serious childhood diseases, including rheumatic fever.”

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