COIMBATORE: Twisting and turning on a frayed straw mat and in contact with the mud floor dusted with firewood remains, the seven-year-old boy is scratching his hands and neck even as he attempts to speak. His skin is the colour of brown ash, the colour of his floor. He shouts out to his mother frequently, complaining about the incessant itching.
“I am scratching only because I cannot control the itching,” he says and shows his palm filled with boils and wounds. He is not the only one suffering.
It all started about two months ago with a single boil found on 13-year-old G Jaya, according to the residents of Sarkarpathi at Vettaikaranpudur town panchayat in Annaimalai block. Now, more than half of the tribal population in and around the region suffer from the scabies — a highly contagious skin infestation, according to social workers.
Of the 43 families residing on the bank of the canal, through which flows the water released from the Sarkarpathi power house, about 40 people, mostly children, suffer from scabies.
“We have been living in the region for more than 50 years and it is for the first time that we are suffering from a skin disease,” says G Karupai (22), a resident, who complains of an increase in the rashes and severity of itching with every passing day.
Doctors in Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) visit the tribal settlements under the National Health Mission, says K Alagamma (30), another resident. They have been consulting the doctors every time the unit visits the settlement. “They give us nothing but a blue colour lotion to apply over the boils. Upon applying the lotion, the itching becomes severe and the boils becomes big,” she says. Now, many have started using ayurvedic medicines, but it is yet to heal the boils, she adds.
Confirming that more than 60 residents from the tribal settlements have been suffering from scabies, officials from Sethumadai PHC, who visit the settlements, attribute the cause to lack of personal hygiene among the people. “Ever since the disease has been diagnosed, we have been urging them to wash themselves and their clothes with hot water, apart from providing them with antibiotic tablets and Gamma benzene hexachloride lotion for application,” say officials.
But residents neither apply the lotion nor follow their suggestions, they complain. Explaining that scabies is highly contagious and passed from person to person through direct skin contact or through infested clothing or bedding, the official says that the treatment should be carried out for the entire settlement even if a single person is infected.
“The disease has started spreading among residents of Chinnarpathi and Nagaroothu settlements,” the social workers say, citing that outsiders carry the disease and spread it to other regions after visiting the Sarkarpathi settlement.
All you need to know
The contagious skin infection is also known as seven-year itch caused by female mites, which burrow into the skin and deposit eggs
It can take up to six weeks for symptoms to appear after initial contraction
Intense itching, usually worse at night, and superficial burrows are distinctive symptoms of Scabies
Norwegian scabies or crusted scabies is prevalent with the elderly, disabled, and people with an impaired immune system, such as HIV, cancer. Their weaker immune systems become a more fertile breeding ground for the mites, which spread over the host’s body, except the face
Topical permethrin or oral ivermectin are commonly used to effectively reduce the prevalence of Scabies on a large scale; there is no vaccine available for the infection
Statistics say that there are approximately 130 million cases of scabies in the world at any given time