British life-style: Doctors report ‘nightmare’ surge in scabies across UK

10:03 07.01.2024 •

A scabies mite.
Photo: Science Photo Library

Proliferation comes amid treatment shortage and poses major public health threat, say experts. Doctors are reporting a surge in scabies cases across the UK amid an acute shortage of treatments, and say the “nightmare” situation poses a major public health threat, informs ‘The Guardian’.

Scabies is a highly contagious condition caused by mites, that results in an itchy rash. It is spread through close skin contact, anyone can get it, and it should be treated quickly to stop it spreading.

In the UK, two main treatment options exist: permethrin and malathion. A combination of supply chain problems, the war in Ukraine and a rise in the cost of raw materials has resulted in months-long shortages of both.

It has sparked an emerging public health crisis, with dermatologists and GPs struggling to treat people with scabies swiftly, the Guardian has been told, with the north of England seeing double the normal amount of cases in November.

Medics are reporting the rise amid concerns that a failure to quickly treat those affected is causing the condition to spread.

Dermatologists who spoke to the Guardian said the situation had become an “absolute nightmare”, with outbreaks in care homes, nursing homes and university accommodation.

National tracking of patients with scabies was “very limited”, a dermatologist leader said, suggesting the problem could be worse than feared.

Some patients have become so desperate they have sought to buy hugely expensive alternative treatments on the internet from outside the UK.

A survey by the British Association of Dermatologists commissioned by the Guardian found that eight of its nine regional representatives had reported an increase in scabies in their area this year. Seven of nine reported shortages of permethrin and malathion.

A dermatologist in the north-east said the shortages were resulting in a vicious circle. “The lack of availability is likely leading to increased spread of infection, which again requires further scabetic treatment and increases strain on demand.”

Dr Tess McPherson, the president of the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Dermatology, said it was vital to emphasise that people did not get scabies because they were unhygienic. “We must reduce any stigma associated with having scabies so that people do seek treatments when needed.”

Anyone could get the condition, she said. Including, as it turns out, her son, a student at Cambridge University. “I was a little bit surprised to diagnose it in my own son, but maybe not that surprised given that I am now seeing cases of scabies much more regularly in children and young people.”


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