Scabies numbers are up, more students are getting the itch

Photo: Depositphotos
Photo: Depositphotos

Local health boards are starting a campaign to combat scabies as the number of cases has exploded in last two years, particularly among students.

The highly contagious condition, characterised by a rash and severe itching, is caused by mites burrowing under the skin to lay their eggs.

This year family doctors diagnosed some 2,900 cases of scabies a week, more than double the number in 2020. Young people in particular get scabies, and students  appear to be particularly prone to outbreaks.

There is no single cause for the increase, experts have said. Young people have been seeing more of each other following the pandemic but it may also be that they are quicker to recognise the condition and seek treatment.

‘It’s a persistent public health problem and yet not all family doctors recognise it,’ professor of medical microbiology Heiman Wertheim told the Volkskrant. ‘And students from elsewhere are often still registered with their family doctors at home because of long waiting lists in their university town. It would be easy for a family doctor in Lutjebroek, where there are few students, to think the problem is eczema or another skin condition,’

Treatment – a cream – after diagnosis is fraught as well, student Joost told the paper. ‘We didn’t know that you’re not supposed to sit of the sofa during treatment, for example’ he said. Joost, who gave his scabies to a number of fellow students via the sofa, smothered himself in cream various times but the scabies remained. ‘I wanted to tear my skin off the itching was so bad,’ he said.

Health board GGD is planning an information campaign, including the hygiene measures that need to taken to stop scabies from spreading.

‘It’s no use putting non washable textile into a bag and then putting it on the balcony. The mites simply go into hybernation. It’s best to put it near the heater,’ GGD doctor Ewout Fanoy told the paper.

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