Scabies outbreak in earthquake region sparks concern, say Turkish doctors 

This photograph taken on February 19, 2023, shows women carrying buckets of water in Yaylakonak village in Adıyaman district, a Kurdish Alevi community village where 108 people died and 170 houses collapsed after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck parts of Turkey and Syria. BÜLENT KILIÇ / AFP

Doctors have expressed concern over a scabies outbreak in tent cities located in an area of Turkey struck by two powerful earthquakes in February, the Duvar news website reported.

Scabies is a contagious, intensely itchy skin condition caused by a tiny, burrowing mite.

Dr. Bulut Ezer, chairman of the Urfa Chamber of Medicine, said there had been an exponential increase in scabies due to a lack of hygiene and restricted access to water in tent cities. “We believe the official numbers do not represent the actual number of cases,” said Ezer. “Many people are too embarrassed to report that they have scabies. This means that by the time they come to the hospital, the infestation will have progressed considerably, making the treatment much more difficult.”

Ezer said delayed treatment had also paved the way for its further spread. Ezer said they were currently witnessing the condition in newborn babies, with some of them experiencing severe symptoms.

Dr. Mustafa Aksoy, a physician at Harran University Hospital, said despite the social taboo surrounding scabies, the number of patients had increased.  “Scabies spreads most in crowded areas and among people who are immunocompromised, the elderly and children,” he said. “Unfortunately, tent cities are one of those areas where the infestation spreads the most.”

Several earthquake victims who have scabies said the medicine did not help alleviate the symptoms because they could not maintain proper hygiene. “I have two children who currently have scabies,” said one person identified as E.G. “The lotions don’t work on them because children can’t protect themselves in crowded areas and when there is limited access to water.”

Others said their children could not attend school for 15 days and that it had become incredibly difficult to contain the infestation. 

Around 2.7 million people have been internally displaced since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck near the Turkish city of Gaziantep in early February. The earthquake was followed by dozens of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.

Shelter, water sanitation facilities, healthcare, protection (including mental health and psychosocial support) and continuity of learning remain priority needs, according to UNICEF Turkey.

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