While 2023 was the year of bed bugs, 2024 has already presented us with another worrying batch of itchy bugs. 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.
Scabies is an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite. It is highly contagious, and its main symptom is an itchy rash, often starting between the fingers. Picture this: tiny mites, invisible to the human eye, burrowing under your skin, laying eggs, and causing havoc across the country with an itchy rash that’s spreading faster than the latest viral meme.
Start hitching already? Doctors across the UK have already started sounding the alarm as scabies cases surge, especially in the north of England, where instances have doubled the normal amount in November 2023.
Now, here’s the plot twist: the urgency for swift treatment is met with a severe shortage of the scabies-fighting superheroes, permethrin and malathion. Why, you ask? Well, blame it on a chaotic combination of supply chain disruptions, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and a surge in the cost of raw materials.
Dermatologists, interviewed by The Guardian, have described the current scabies outbreak as an “absolute nightmare.” And it’s spreading like wildfire, with outbreaks reported in care homes, nursing homes, and even university accommodations.
Experts fear that the scarcity of available medications is causing scabies to spread its itchy influence at an alarming rate. Central Saint Martins even had to close in December of last year due to students being in contact with an infected roll of fabric.
In a statement, Professor Mabs Chowdhury, president of the British Association of Dermatologists, has underscored the pressing need for increased attention to the shortage of scabies treatments.
According to Chowdhury, the public health calculation is straightforward: “Scabies have the potential to spread rapidly, and without adequate treatment, it will persist and escalate.”
Speaking to The Guardian, Dr. Tess McPherson, president of the British Society for Paediatric and Adolescent Dermatology, clarified that “scabies is not a reflection of poor hygiene,” adding that even her son, a student at Cambridge University, has been affected. This revelation serves as a powerful reminder to destigmatise scabies, urging everyone to seek treatment without hesitation.