Doctors in the UK are reporting a huge surge in scabies cases throughout the country.
This is particularly concerning because this condition is highly contagious and thanks to a myriad of supply chain problems, there is an acute shortage of treatments available, meaning it is continuing to spread rapidly.
The Guardian was told by dermatologists and GPs that this is an emerging public health crisis, with the north of England seeing double the amount of cases than usual in November.
Dermatologists told the Guardian that the situation had become an “absolute nightmare” as outbreaks had taken place in care homes and university accommodations.
Additionally, national tracking of people with scabies is “very limited” according to a dermatologist leader speaking to the Guardian, meaning that the problem could be even worse than it seems.
What is scabies?
According to the NHS, scabies is an itchy rash caused by mites. It’s spread through close skin contact, and anyone can get it. It should be treated quickly to stop it spreading.
Symptoms are intense itching, especially at night and a raised rash or spots. The spots are red but are more difficult to see on brown or black skin, but can be felt. Tiny mites lay eggs in the skin, and leave lines with a dot at one end. The rash can appear anywhere but is common between the fingers.
It can then spread and turn into tiny spots that may leave dark spots on the skin which looks darker than your usual skin colour on brown or black skin.
This rash spreads across the whole body, apart from the head and neck. It affects the skin between fingers, around the wrists, under the arms and around the waist, groin and bottom.
In older people and young children, rashes may develop on the head, neck, palms and soles of the feet.
The NHS adds that those with a weakened immune system can sometimes get a rare and very contagious type of scabies, called crusted scabies. The main symptom is a crusted, flaky rash that affects elbows, knees, hands, and feet.
What to do if you think you have scabies
While there is a shortage of treatments at the moment, you should still speak to your GP or pharmacist to find out which treatment options are available to you.
A cream or lotion will be recommended to apply to the whole body and if you live with anybody, they’ll need to undertake the treatment too, even if they don’t have symptoms, unless they are under the age of 2, in which case your GP can advise what’s best.
Additionally, anyone you’ve had sexual contact with in the past 8 weeks should also be treated.
To reduce the spread of scabies, the NHS recommends:
- Wash all bedding and clothing in the house at 60C or higher, and if possible, in a hot dryer, on the first day of treatment
- Put any clothing that can’t be washed in a sealed bag for 3 days until the mites die
- Do not have sex or close physical contact until you have completed the full course of treatment
- Do not share bedding, clothing or towels with someone that has scabies