The number of people with scabies has risen to record highs in recent months. The skin condition is a common problem, especially among young adults. The GGD in Amsterdam is concerned and wants to focus on expertise and group treatments.
Doctor Ewout Fanoy has been working at the GGD for 18 years, but has never seen so many scabies cases. “We now receive a few thousand reports a week, which are significant numbers.” Especially since there is no obligation to report scabies. “So we don’t have the data of all cases by far. This is only the tip of the iceberg.”
The GGD has seen an increase in the number of cases since 2013. However, this explosive increase cannot yet be fully explained. “It has suddenly increased even more for the past two years,” says Fanoy. “While the infections of all other infectious diseases went down during corona, those of scabies rose.” It could be that young adults spent a lot of time together and visited each other due to the lockdown. Scabies is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
GPs lack expertise
According to Fanoy, GPs often do not have the right expertise. The problem is especially big among students. They often also have a general practitioner from their original region. “Those GPs don’t think so quickly about scabies. For example, they sometimes prescribe medication for eczema, while afterwards it turns out to be scabies.”
The GGD therefore wants to collaborate more with general practitioners. “They’re on the front line,” says Fanoy. “So it is important that they get more expertise. Together with them we have to focus on group treatment.”
Students need to discuss it and get over their shame.
The treatment of scabies often goes wrong. If one person has scabies, the whole household must treat themselves. And that treatment requires quite a bit of effort: Patients have to cover themselves completely with ointment before going to sleep, bedding has to be washed at 60 degrees and clothes have to be stored in plastic bags at room temperature for three days.
This treatment must be done very carefully and properly. Housemates also have to coordinate well with each other. Fanoy: “If even one person in the house does not perform well, scabies will continue to ping pong through the house.”
The GGD is considering further expanding the so-called environmental ring of the treatment. This means that not only the housemates must treat themselves, but also, for example, the entire student association. “This is on our agenda, because how we do it now doesn’t work well enough.”
According to Fanoy, there is a considerable taboo on scabies among young people. That must be broken, he thinks. “Students need to discuss it and get over their shame. After all, scabies is not finished with just treating yourself.”