Scabies back on radar
A symposium to highlight the seriousness of scabies and boost treatment of the disease will be held at the School of Population Health in Auckland on September 13.
Improving Scabies Treatment: A Path to Health Equity in New Zealand will look at how common the disease is and why it should be taken more seriously.
The symposium will also examine 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?
The keynote speaker will be Dr Daniel Engelman from the Centre for International Child Health. Dr Engelman has studied the disease extensively in the Pacific.
Dr Simon Thornley of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Auckland University who will speak at the symposium told HPF that scabies had been left off the public health and research radar in New Zealand for so long, because it had been assumed to be a nuisance rather than a serious disease.
Dr Thornley said it was only until recently that evidence had emerged that scabies was strongly linked to diseases such as bacterial skin infection, post-streptococcal kidney disease and acute rheumatic fever.
“Strep throat is the traditional explanation about why Maori and Pacific children get acute rheumatic fever,” he said.
“We believe that improving treatment for scabies can reduce ethnic health inequality in this country.”
Dr Simon Thornley, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Auckland University
On why diagnosis of scabies was often missed Dr Thornley explained that scabies could be difficult to diagnose as it mimicked other skin diseases.
“If doctors don’t think about it, they may make an incorrect diagnosis,” he said.
“However, accumulating evidence suggests that this is not the case. A large government school campaign aimed at preventing rheumatic fever using this approach has yielded disappointing results. Acute rheumatic fever rates in Auckland remain high. Because of this apparent failure, we strongly believe that different approaches, such as aggressively diagnosing and treating scabies should be considered.
“Young children are most likely to be treated,” he said. “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.”
Dr Thornley said although it was not known exactly, drug dispensing data suggested that Maori and Pacific people in socioeconomically deprived regions of Auckland were most affected by the scabies.
Dr Thornley said it is hoped that the symposium will raise awareness of the need to improve scabies treatment in this country, given the strong link between scabies infestation and serious childhood diseases, including rheumatic fever.
“We believe that improving treatment for scabies can reduce ethnic health inequality in this country. The current model of relying on GPs to treat the disease does not seem to be working, so more public health attention and resource to adequately diagnosing and treating the disease, we think, should be considered.”
The meeting will be relevant to nurses, GPs, Paediatricians, public health professionals, public health researchers, scientists and anyone who is interested in the disease.