Scabies and risk of skin sores in remote Australian Aboriginal communities: A self-controlled case series study

Phyo Thu Zar Aung1 , Will Cuningham1,2, Kerry Hwang3 , Ross M. Andrews2,4, Jonathan R. Carapetis5 , Therese Kearns2 , Danielle Clucas6 , Jodie McVernon1,3,7, Julie Ann Simpson3 , Steven Y.C. Tong2,8, Patricia Therese Campbell1,7Scabies and risk of skin sores in remote Australian Aboriginal communities: A self-controlled case series study. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 2018, 12(7):e0006668.



Skin sores caused by Group A streptococcus (GAS) infection are a major public health problem in remote Aboriginal communities. Skin sores are often associated with scabies, which is evident in scabies intervention programs where a significant reduction of skin sores is seen after focusing solely on scabies control. Our study quantifies the strength of association between skin sores and scabies among Aboriginal children from the East Arnhem region in the Northern Territory.

Methods and results

Pre-existing datasets from three published studies, which were conducted as part of the East Arnhem Healthy Skin Project (EAHSP), were analysed. Aboriginal children were followed from birth up to 4.5 years of age. Self-controlled case series design was used to determine the risks, within individuals, of developing skin sores when infected with scabies versus when there was no scabies infection. Participants were 11.9 times more likely to develop skin sores when infected with scabies compared with times when no scabies infection was evident (Incidence Rate Ratio (IRR) 11.9; 95% CI 10.3–13.7; p<0.001), and this was similar across the five Aboriginal communities. Children had lower risk of developing skin sores at age ≤1 year compared to at age >1 year (IRR 0.8; 95% CI 0.7–0.9).


The association between scabies and skin sores is highly significant and indicates a causal relationship. The public health importance of scabies in northern Australia is underappreciated and a concerted approach is required to recognise and eliminate scabies as an important precursor of skin sores.