Scabies is a parasitic infestation of the skin with the parasitic 'itch mite' Sarcoptes scabiei. The tiny mite burrows into the upper layers of the skin causing intensely itchy lesions which commonly become infected with bacteria. In humans, scabies is a particularly significant disease in children, but occurs in both sexes, at all ages, in all ethnic groups, and at all socioeconomic levels. Transmission of the mites from one person to the next is by direct skin to skin contact.

Scabies is a significant disease worldwide in humans, wildlife, livestock and domestic animals and is a particularly serious problem in many remote Australia Indigenous communities, where overcrowded living conditions are a major factor contributing to high rates of transmission.

Our research focus:
  • To conduct community based treatment projects aimed at reducing the prevalence of skin infections
  • To build capacity in local community workers in recognising and treating skin infections and in research methods
  • To monitor for and investigate the molecular mechanisms of emerging drug resistance in scabies mites
  • To investigate how scabies mites live and survive in the skin. Proteins which may be essential for mite survival could be targets for the design of alternative treatments for scabies
  • To investigate how the infested person’s immune system responds to the scabies mites, and why some people’s immune systems react differently to the mites, resulting in severe infestation known as crusted scabies.
Our research impact:
  • We have conducted a comprehensive Healthy Skin program in the East Arnhem region. This included annual mass community scabies treatment days and routine screening and treatment of other skin infections.
  • We have conducted a treatment trial for scabies and strongyloidiasis in which 1300 adults and children from Galiwin’ku community participated. Following training, some community members acted as researchers on the project, describing the project to other community members in Yolngu language and performing skin screening, blood taking and treatment administration.
  • We are building capacity in community based researchers with 15 community members completing a Certificate II in Child Health Research, six completed a blood taking course and three obtained a medication skills-assist qualification. With the help of the Red Cross, we also organised first aid training with 60 community members receiving first aid certificates.
  • We use an established laboratory test to determine the sensitivity of scabies mites collected from scabies patients, to current treatments. This enables us to assess the likely effectiveness of treatments used for individual crusted scabies patients, as well as monitor for the emergence of drug resistance in scabies mites.
Key staff:
  • Queensland Institute of Medical Research, University of the Sunshine Coast
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne
  • University of Florida, USA.
  1. Holt, D.C., Shield, J., Harris, T.M., Mounsey, K.E., Aland, K., McCarthy, J.S., Currie, B.J., Kearns, T.M. (2017) Soil-Transmitted Helminths in Children in a Remote Aboriginal Community in the Northern Territory: Hookworm is Rare but Strongyloides stercoralis and Trichuris trichiura Persist. Trop. Med. Infect. Dis. 2, 51.
  2. Kearns, T.M., Currie, B.J., Cheng, A.C., McCarthy, J., Carapetis, J.R., Holt, D.C., et al. (2017) Strongyloides seroprevalence before and after an ivermectin mass drug administration in a remote Australian Aboriginal community. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 11(5):e0005607. Epub 2017/05/16. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0005607. PubMed PMID: 28505198.
  3. Kearns, T. M., et al. (2015). "Impact of an Ivermectin Mass Drug Administration on Scabies Prevalence in a Remote Australian Aboriginal Community." PLoS Negl Trop Dis 9(10): e0004151
  4. Shield J., Aland K., Kearns T., Gondjalk G., Holt., Currie B., et al. (2015). Intestinal parasites of children and adults in a remote Aboriginal community of the Northern Territory, Australia, 1994–1996. Western Pacific Surveillance and Response, 6(1), 1-8. 
  5. Mounsey, K., Kearns, T., Rampton, M., Llewellyn, S., King, M., Holt, D., et al. (2014). Use of dried blood spots to define antibody response to the Strongyloides stercoralis recombinant antigen NIE. Acta Tropica, 138, 78-82. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2014.07.007
  6. Kearns, T., Clucas, D., Connors, C., Currie, B.J., Carapetis, J.R. & Andrews, R.M. (2013). Clinic attendances during the first 12 months of life for Aboriginal children in five remote communities of northern Australia. PLoS One, 8(3), e85231.
  7. Holt, D.C. & Fischer K. (2013). Novel insights into an old disease: recent developments in scabies mite biology. Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases, 26(2), 110-115.
  8. Holt, D.C., Burgess, S.T.G., Reynolds, S.L., Mahmood,,W. & Fischer, K. (2013). Intestinal proteases of free-living and parasitic astigmatid mites. Cell and Tissue Research, 351(2), 339-352.
  9. Fischer, K., Holt, D., Currie, B. & Kemp, D. (2012). Scabies: important clinical consequences explained by new molecular studies. Advances in Parasitology, 79, 339-73.
  10. McMeniman, E., Holden, L., Kearns, T., Clucas, D.B., Carapetis, J.R., Currie, B.J., et al. (2011). Skin disease in the first two years of life in Aboriginal children in East Arnhem Land. Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 52(4), 270-273.
  1. Skin disease a 'national crisis'

    Skin disease a 'national crisis'


    NT News report on the HOT NORTH One Disease Skin Symposium attend by Australia's first Indigenous dermatologist Larrakia woman Dr Dana Slape

  2. First Aboriginal Australian Dermatologist to Attend Skin Health Symposium in Darwin

    First Aboriginal Australian Dermatologist to Attend Skin Health Symposium in Darwin


    This week Larrakia woman, Dr Dana Slape, Australia's first Aboriginal dermatologist, is back home to country to attend a Skin Health Symposium

  3. Bendigo Advertiser | Pain free staph fix given green light

    Bendigo Advertiser | Pain free staph fix given green light


    Menzies School of Health Research (Menzies), findings show there has been inaccurate reporting of resistance to the recommended antibiotic, trimethoprim- sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim).

  4. Pain free golden staph treatment cleared for use in remote communities

    Pain free golden staph treatment cleared for use in remote communities


    A northern Australian research team has provided reassuring support for the continued use of an oral treatment option for patients with skin infections, finding that there has been inaccurate reporting of resistance to the recommended antibiotic.

  5. Menzies part of the Eureka Prize winning team


    The Scabies Research Team, from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute; the Kirby Institute; St Vincent's Hospital Sydney; and Menzies School of Health Research, wins the 2017 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research.




    In a world-first study, treatment of a whole community with oral ivermectin has been shown to virtually eliminate scabies, providing new hope in the fight to control this debilitating disease.

  7. Pioneering skin sores research to improve health of children globally

    Pioneering skin sores research to improve health of children globally


    A NT-based research project investigating alternative and more practical treatments for skin sores is set to benefit the millions of children worldwide who suffer from this infection.

  8. Scabies and strongyloides: a community snapshot

    Scabies and strongyloides: a community snapshot


    Researcher Therese Kearns tests a new treatment for mite and worm infections.

  9. ABC stateline report - beating scabies and strongyloidiasis

    ABC stateline report - beating scabies and strongyloidiasis


    The Menzies School of Health Research is hoping the drug Ivermectin will rid the Echo Island community, east of Darwin, of scabies and the strongyloides worm.