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Institute News
Thursday, June 2, 2016 - 3:30pm

Many of us have travelled to beautiful Pacific Island nations for holidays and relaxation but on our travels would also have observed the poverty that critically affects many of the local people.

Scabies is an itchy, highly contagious skin disease caused by infestation by the itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei).
In many thousands of cases, Scabies is the root cause of secondary bacterial infection such as Strep and Staph bacteria (Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus).

These bacteria can move into the bloodstream, causing severe sepsis leading to death. The Strep infection can also lead to rheumatic fever which often results in rheumatic heart disease, another major cause of death for children and young people in third world countries. 

Until recently there were no successful, affordable treatments or drugs available to manage scabies but thanks to many years of research and hard work, Associate Professor Andrew Steer, one of our talented researchers here at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, and his team have potentially changed the way we can treat millions of children with this disease. 

Research conducted by Andrew and his team in the Fijian islands virtually eliminated Scabies when an entire community in the 2015 trial was given an oral drug called ivermectin. One year after the mass administration, the prevalence of scabies declined by 94 per cent.

A standard cream treatment and mass administration of the same cream, permethrin, was tested in the other two remote island communities.  Scabies declined by 64 per cent in the mass cream group and 49 per cent in the standard-care group, showing that ivermectin was really the way to go to eradicate scabies completely.

“The problem with the cream is that you treat individuals who go home to their families and friends who have all got it and they just get it back again,” Andrew says. “That’s the idea behind ivermectin – you treat everyone at the one time and you just knock it out. And it works.”

The potential to rid communities of infectious diseases – illnesses he first observed as a medical student – is an exciting culmination of his dedication and hard work. An uncertainty about practising adult medicine prompted him to take a year off medical school and work in Samoa, where he developed a love of paediatrics.

Learn about Professor Andrew Steer's remarkable discoveries here.