15 Sep 2019

Scabies needs to be taken more seriously, says health researcher

11:15 am on 15 September 2019

The discovery of a link between scabies and rheumatic fever could help reduce ethnic inequalities in health, says an Auckland public health academic.

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New research shows infestation with the parasitic scabies mite is linked with developing rheumatic fever. Photo: 123rf

Researchers from the University of Auckland found children diagnosed with scabies were more likely to develop rheumatic fever. Scabies, a skin disease caused by a tiny parasitic mite, is also linked to impetigo, kidney disease and bacterial skin infection.

Public health researcher Simon Thornley said rheumatic fever disproportionately affected Māori and Pasifika communities.

Focusing on diagnosis and treatment of scabies offered a promising new approach to tackling rheumatic fever, he said.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service epidemiologist Dr Simon Thornley

University of Auckland public health researcher Simon Thornley says scabies has been left off the public health radar in New Zealand for too long. Photo: LinkedIn

"We have produced evidence showing a strong link between scabies and rheumatic fever and believe that the issue of scabies badly needs addressing in New Zealand, but the Ministry of Health and district health boards show little enthusiasm for tackling the problem," Dr Thornley said.

"This is in contrast to Australia, where there are NGOs tackling the disease and crusted scabies is notifiable.

"Considering that the Western Pacific is the highest scabies prevalence area in the world, we believe that the issue needs attention and focus."

Most patients in New Zealand were unable to access the most effective treatment for scabies, Ivermectin, because of a lack of government funding, he said.

"Farmers and vets can use it with impunity, but the treatment is reserved for only severe cases in humans."

Little progress had been made with rheumatic fever prevention campaigns, using traditional methods of early treatment of bacterial throat infection, he said.

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