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Rise in scabies cases locally

St Bernard's Hospital. Photo by Eyleen Gomez.

The GHA has prescribed around 100 courses of scabies treatment in October after an increase in its spread locally.

Director of Public Health Dr Helen Carter told the Chronicle that scabies is a common condition with a low number of cases normally reported at any time.

But, recently, a greater number of cases than expected has emerged.

Scabies is a contagious condition caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin.

“It causes really intense itching, especially at night, and it can cause a skin rash as well,” Dr Carter said.

Scabies is caught via close skin-to-skin contact and Dr Carter said there is a stigma that the condition is caused by poor hygiene, which she dispelled.

Although it is a very unpleasant condition, she said, scabies does not cause serious illness.

“Scabies, I often find, is something really similar to headlice, causes a lot of concern and anxiety,” she said.

“People get very upset about it and I understand that, I absolutely understand it. But there are treatments available, it's not going to cause severe disease and it's not going to kill you.”

Treatments can be bought directly from a pharmacist, with no need for a prescription, or can be prescribed by a GP.

Topical treatments include an ointment which the person will coat their entire body with, from the neck down, leave it on for eight hours, and then wash off.

“I'd encourage anybody if you are going to buy it from your pharmacist, read the instruction leaflet really carefully in terms of how to apply it,” she said.

“And then we recommend another application a week later. So it's a double treatment.”

After the treatment is washed off the person is virtually no longer infectious.

She also recommends those affected wash their clothes, bedding and towels in at least a 50 degree wash.

If clothes and bedding etc are not washed, the person could run the risk of being reinfected later.

A second line of treatment is oral medication and Dr Carter advises the public to contact their GP if they have any difficulty accessing scabies treatments from their pharmacist.

Dr Carter said that Gibraltar has not faced shortage issues like in the UK and Spain which have seen shortages due to the increase in cases.

She thinks the local spread is due to post-Covid socialisation, and perhaps a factor could be the increase in the prevalence of scabies in the UK and Spain.

Due to scabies treatments being available over the counter, Dr Carter believes that the GHA's figures are an underestimate.

“At the GHA, during October, we prescribed 100 courses of scabies treatment,” she said.

“Now, that does not mean there were 100 people with scabies because, as part of that, we'll be issuing prescriptions to household contacts”

“So one case may have two, three, four people who live under the same roof. We can see from the prescriptions that there are family clusters there, and that's what we want to see.”

“We want everybody to be treated under that same roof. So we know that we're seeing an increase in cases.”

“But can I accurately say how many cases we've got? No, because people are accessing treatment through pharmacy.”

She added the GHA is seeing working age adults affected, but the condition is not affecting a particular demographic locally.

“The general message is, and we're about to put out an awareness campaign around this, is if you think you have got scabies, please either go and see your pharmacist or see the Primary Care Centre and ask to see a GP for advice,” she said.

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