The discovery of a link between scabies and rheumatic fever could help reduce ethnic inequalities in health, says an Auckland public health academic.
Researchers from the University of Auckland found children diagnosed with scabies were more likely to develop rheumatic fever. Scabies, a skin disease caused by a tiny parasitic mite, is also linked to impetigo, kidney disease and bacterial skin infection.
Public health researcher Simon Thornley said rheumatic fever disproportionately affected Māori and Pasifika communities.
Focusing on diagnosis and treatment of scabies offered a promising new approach to tackling rheumatic fever, he said.
"We have produced evidence showing a strong link between scabies and rheumatic fever and believe that the issue of scabies badly needs addressing in New Zealand, but the Ministry of Health and district health boards show little enthusiasm for tackling the problem," Dr Thornley said.
"This is in contrast to Australia, where there are NGOs tackling the disease and crusted scabies is notifiable.
"Considering that the Western Pacific is the highest scabies prevalence area in the world, we believe that the issue needs attention and focus."
Most patients in New Zealand were unable to access the most effective treatment for scabies, Ivermectin, because of a lack of government funding, he said.
"Farmers and vets can use it with impunity, but the treatment is reserved for only severe cases in humans."
Little progress had been made with rheumatic fever prevention campaigns, using traditional methods of early treatment of bacterial throat infection, he said.