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01 Sep 2017

West Australian researchers at Telethon Kids Institute have confirmed dangerous skin infections in many Aboriginal children across northern Western Australia are too often unrecognised and under-treated.

This is despite untreated skin infections such as scabies and impetigo (school sores) can lead to life-threatening conditions such as kidney disease, rheumatic heart disease and blood poisoning.

About 45 per cent of Aboriginal children living in remote communities across northern Australia are affected by impetigo at any one time – the highest prevalence in the world – and scabies is endemic in some communities.

Telethon Kids paediatric infectious diseases specialist Dr Asha Bowen said the recently published study in Public Library of Science (PLOS)journal Neglected Tropic Diseases, found underlying skin problems aren’t always noticed or treated – paving the way for serious complications later on.

Dr Bowen said Aboriginal people in the north of Australia have some of the highest rates of skin infection in the world.

Yet it can be so common in these communities it is regarded as normal, both by health workers and the community.

“When Aboriginal children are assessed at hospitals, it’s often for a more acute condition like pneumonia or gastroenteritis, and that tends to be what the clinicians focus on,” she said.

It was something researchers had suspected but couldn’t previously demonstrate with solid data.

“Now, after conducting a clinical study where we assessed new hospital admissions and compared the results to past records, we have the data to back it up,” Dr Bowen said.

“And that means we’re in a better position to do something about it.”

There remains a need to address the problem by improving training and awareness, and providing tools to help doctors and other healthcare workers better recognise and treat skin infections early on.

The study, led by Dr Daniel Yeoh of the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute and the Department of Infectious Diseases at Princess Margaret Hospital, was facilitated and supported by WACHS Pilbara, and WACHS Kimberley.

The AMA recognises the terrible effect Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is having on Indigenous people in Australia.   The AMA also recognises that impetigo plays a deadly role in RHD.  Every year, RHD kills people and devastates lives – particularly the lives of young Indigenous Australians.  It causes strokes in teenagers, and requires children to undergo open heart surgery.


 The AMA’s 2016 Report Card on Indigenous Health can be found here: 


Published: 01 Sep 2017