Since the end of last year, reports have been surfacing about the remarkable rise of scabies (also called sarcoptic mange), a disease that hardly existed before.
Pharmacists in Antwerp have virtually run out of scabies medicines due to the rise of the highly contagious skin disease in the city in recent months. Scientists, however, have yet to come up with an answer as to where the increase suddenly comes from.
"We do not have a conclusive answer," Dr Steven Van Den Broucke of the Tropical Institute said on Flemish radio. "It could have to do with migration or hygiene, but it could just as well be due to students having close contact with each other, or because the ointment works less efficiently than before."
Additionally, there is no routine test for antibiotics to see where the problem is. "This mite is a notoriously difficult animal to investigate," said Van Den Broucke. "Finally, it is difficult because you actually have to treat everyone who came into contact with the infectious bug and not just the one who suffered the most."
While people are sometimes reluctant to admit that they have scabies, there is no need to be, stressed Van Den Broucke. "Scabies can happen to anyone and occurs in all strata of the population. It is not related to a lack of hygiene; close contact with an infected person can be enough."
"We have about ten patients a day," Van Den Broucke said. "The stock of medication – little pills – dwindles quickly. Pharmacies in Antwerp are also having problems with the ointment in stock, partly due to international supply issues."
However, according to the website of the Federal Medicines Agency, the shortage is not national but likely limited to the Antwerp region.