A friend posted a photographic vignette of old tins and containers of favourite products Kenyans used decades ago.
He captioned it: “Tumetoka mbali” (we’ve come a long way).
Taking a second look at the photo, what came to mind was the pain and stigma that existed back then against those with scabies.
My teacher cheekily referred to the scratchy disease as ‘ugonjwa wa kupiga guitar’ (guitar-strumming disease).
“Why are you playing the guitar and I can’t hear the sound of music?” he would ask annoyingly.
Scabies is an itchy skin disease caused by a mite known scientifically as Sarcoptes Scabiei.
Dr Okello Odiyo of Mwea Mission Hospital says that the disease is transmitted through physical contact.
“The mite burrows inside the skin and causes itchiness. The affected person scratches as a result. The organism survives only when there is a host. Outside the body, it can’t live for long,” he adds.
The mite responsible for scabies is not visible with naked eyes. An interesting aspect of scabies is that it can easily pass for a sexually transmitted disease.
Joking about it, Dr Okello says: “we (doctors) still don’t know whether to categorise it as an STI or not, since it is almost certain that any infected individual coming in close contact with another will transmit it. The disease is highly contagious, especially in cases that involve a lot of contact.”
Scabies can easily become an epidemic in schools, where children interact frequently. And now that schools are open, Dr Okello advises parents to watch and inform their children of appropriate measures to avoid infection.
“Since children are more social and interact often, it wouldn’t be advisable to ask your child to isolate friends with symptoms of scabies,” he says.
“The best thing is to teach them that they should help their friends to seek medical help early enough before the disease spreads throughout their bodies and put others at risk.”
The medic is however categorical that avoiding skin contact with someone suffering from scabies is the best strategy to prevent infection.
Many times, the disease presents as tiny puss- like wounds all over the body.
According to Dr Okello, this happens because scratching causes lesions, which then act as entry points for bacteria and other germs. “The wounds get infected and more often, pus and blood can manifest as the scratching gets worse,” he says.
Scabies does not affect a distinct age group. However, it is easily transmitted among children. Adults too are affected in much the same way.
For those who engage in sex, getting infected is almost inevitable. Should it be classified as an STI?
Well, we don’t have an answer for that, unless someone invents a condom for the whole body!