Scabies treatment cream being air freighted to New Zealand as cases surge across South Island

There's been an increase in cases of scabies across the South Island, and it's proving hard for people affected to get their hands on treatment.

Te Whatu Ora says cases are coming from across Canterbury and the West Coast, and largely affecting students.

Scabies might just be tiny mites, but they're causing some mighty big problems in the South Island.

"Certainly feels like we're seeing more, both myself and my colleagues," said Riccarton Clinic general practitioner Dr Angus Chambers.

Te Whatu Ora is reporting an increase in scabies cases over the past six to 12 months, but says it is not an epidemic.

Dr Chambers has been seeing more patients presenting with scabies over the past four to six weeks.

"Each GP seeing one or two would mean a whole lot of GPs seeing quite a lot," he said.

"Scabies is a microscopic little mite and it lives under your skin, it's a parasite and it spreads by touching another person's skin and it manages to transfer."

And it has been transferring and causing an itchy rash in the student population.

At the University of Otago last year from mid-March to mid-April 16 students were issued prescriptions for topical scabies medicine. In the same period this year 47 prescriptions were given out.

But the University of Canterbury said it has not seen an increase in scabies cases in enrolled students at its Health Centre, or in the residential halls.

Newshub spoke to a number of students who did not want to go on camera, who said they had heard of flats where the entire household caught scabies and passed it on to others.

"Seems to be younger people, I've seen a couple of students, another person who is of a student age living at a flat... all of their flatmates have got it," Dr Chambers explained.

The condition can be treated with A-Scabies cream, or a prescribed oral ivermectin pill.

But the subsidised cream is hard to come by.

"I've certainly seen people who have approached multiple pharmacies who can't get it. The pharmacy we have attached to our practice hasn't got it," said Dr Chambers.

That is because demand is so high.

"There has been quite an escalation in demand recently, with use being up about 50 percent to be frank," said AFT Pharmaceuticals managing director Hartley Atkinson.

Demand has depleted AFT Pharmaceuticals' stock reserves and the supply chain is facing ongoing delays post-pandemic.

"Part of the problem is there's been delays in manufacturing despite our best efforts," Atkinson said.

But more stock is on the way.

"We're getting six months of stock arriving in over the weekend by air freight."

And it should be on the shelves by next week to help bring relief for those suffering.