An introduction to Norwegian scabies
Norwegian scabies, also known as crusted scabies, is a much more serious form of the scabies infection.
The infection is not native to Scandinavia as the name may suggest, rather it derives from the history of the condition in 19th century Norway, where the infection was first identified.1
Outbreaks of Norwegian scabies are quite rare and normally appear when our immune system is compromised. The scabies mites are able to reproduce uninhibited, multiplying into thousands, if not millions.
This is in stark contrast to a traditional scabies experience, where there are usually 10-20 mites present in the affected area.
However, the greater population of scabies mites means that the symptoms are much more severe, with skin crusting, flaking and breaking out into sores.
If you are suffering from scabies, it is imperative that you are able to recognise when your symptoms are progressing and identify any potential irritants that could cause the scabies mites to reproduce, perhaps evolving your skin infection into an episode of Norwegian scabies.
The causes of Norwegian scabies
It is commonly assumed that Norwegian scabies usually arises as an exaggeration of normal scabies, brought on by an untreated outbreak.
While this can occur, Norwegian scabies appears more often in those with a weakened immune system that is unable to properly counteract the effects of the scabies mites.
Contracting the infection from a carrier of Norwegian scabies will not prompt an outbreak of that variant, but rather it will stimulate the traditional scabies condition.
However, it is still important to be aware of the causes of Norwegian scabies, so you can identify whether you are at risk of developing the associated symptoms.
- Weak immune system: Norwegian scabies first came into prominence in the leper colonies in Norway during the 19th century. This association, between those with autoimmune conditions and the skin condition, continues to persist. Those most affected by the infection are those who a weakened immune system, either due to a pre-existing medical complaint, such as HIV or Down’s syndrome, or old age. In these cases, the immune system cannot cope with the strain of scabies or release enough proteins and anti-bodies to attack the parasites, allowing them to breed exponentially, uninhibited. If your immune system is weak, it also puts you at risk of developing the infection again, as a strong immune system is able to build up immunity to the mite, but if your immune system is weak, it might lack the ability to launch as a successful resistance against the mite, allowing you to become infected whenever you are exposed to the pathogens
- Malnutrition: If you suffer from malnutrition, brought on by extenuating circumstances or a poor diet, then this will place an enormous strain on your immune system, making it more vulnerable to infection and less able to resist parasites. You should always try to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet, rich in anti-oxidants and minerals to help support your immune system. If you eat food or drink products that are high in caffeine, processed sugars or fats, then your body may start to overproduce certain chemicals, weakening the adrenal glands and placing additional stress on your immune system. This can make it easier for invasive pathogens to thrive and even increase the levels of bad bacteria in your gut, making you vulnerable to a secondary bacterial infection.
- Untreated scabies: If you have an existing scabies infection but do not treat the condition properly, then the scabies mites will continue to breed and reproduce on your skin, unencumbered. This population spike will inevitably aggravate your symptoms, causing you discomfort, embarrassment and pain. It is important to try and manage your scabies symptoms as quickly as possible and you can find out methods of doing this by reading our scabies page
- Direct contact: The scabies infection is usually considered to be moderately contagious but due to the influx of mites on the surface of the skin, Norwegian scabies is much more likely to perpetuate the condition. While traditional scabies relies on prolonged skin contact to spread, such as sexual intercourse, Norwegian scabies needs only mild physical contact to contaminate another party. This is why it is so important to take precautions to avoid picking up the infection, either by avoiding those whom you know are affected, or by wearing protective clothing to guard your bare skin against the parasites
- Indirect contact: It is unusual, but not unheard for scabies to be transmitted via indirect contact with an infected object, such as bedding, clothing or towels, since the mites can only survive for so long outside of a human host. In Norwegian scabies, the sheer volume of mites means that any interaction with a contaminated object is much more likely to result in you contracting scabies. If you are living with an infected party, then it would be advisable no to share bedding or clothing with that person and to wash such items at a high temperature to kill off any parasites.
The symptoms of Norwegian scabies
The symptoms of Norwegian scabies can be extreme, appearing all over the body from the feet to the scalp.
These episodes are certainly more debilitating than the traditional scabies infection, often restricting your day to day activities and having a noticeable impact on your psychological state.
It is important that you consult your GP immediately upon noting any symptoms associated with Norwegian scabies, in order to receive treatment as soon as possible.
- Crusting skin: When your skin is infected with scabies mites, it can result in a dense grey crust appearing on the surface of your skin. This crust usually contains the eggs of the scabies mites and can form in the folds of your skin, usually crumbling when disturbed, spreading dead skin cells further afield
- Rash: Unlike the itchy, angry red rash that develops with milder forms of scabies, the rash associated with Norwegian scabies is not itchy, but can appear around the infected area, usually sporting blistering and pimples
- Flaking skin: Norwegian scabies can cause skin to deteriorate, prompting it to become sensitive and inflamed. When this happens, the dead skill cells can start to flake, especially around the facial area
- Hair loss: If Norwegian scabies spreads to your scalp, the degeneration of skin can have an impact on hair follicles, causing the hair to lose strength, become brittle and fall out
- Stress: If you are suffering from Norwegian scabies, then you are likely experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort, which can make you feel stressed, anxious and depressed. The physical symptoms of Norwegian scabies are highly visible, and the contagious nature of the disease can make you feel isolated, having a negative impact on your self-esteem and confidence
- Sleep deprivation: Sleep deprivation can have serious implications for your mood and emotional wellbeing. The physical symptoms of Norwegian scabies can been painful, uncomfortable and difficult to ignore, sometimes preventing you from achieving a good night’s rest. When this happens, you can feel groggy and disorientated the next day, and experience a lapse in your mood. This can inhibit your ability to cope with your infection, and even place additional stress on your immune system.
There is no one home remedy that will able to cure your Norwegian scabies due to the severity of the condition, but home remedies can aid the process of killing the parasites and removing the dead skin cells to allow access to the infected skin below.
These solutions are not long-term and you should always speak to your GP if you notice any irregular or unwelcome changes in your condition.
- Good nutrition: What we eat has the power to either assist or disrupt your immune system. If you follow a diet that is high in caffeine, sugar, processed fats and carbohydrates then it will fatigue your immune system, and, during an episode of Norwegian scabies, this is the equivalent of kicking a dog while it is down. Instead, your diet should be supporting your immune system and be rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants. This will not cure your scabies, but foods such as garlic or rhubarb have anti-parasitical qualities that can ease symptoms such as a rash or inflammation, helping you to cope rather than inflicting further damage. You could also try to get more nutrients into your diet by consuming a mix of anti-oxidant fruit and vegetables – or simply blitz them into a smoothie to get your daily top-up in one glass!
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil is extracted from the flesh of coconuts and has made a name for itself in recent years due to its highly beneficial properties for our skin and overall health. Coconut oil has anti-bacterial properties that can reduce the population of bacteria on the surface of your skin, preventing a secondary infection that could exacerbate your symptoms. When applied topically, it can also restrict the supply of oxygen to the mites, depriving them of an air supply and killing them.2 If you are thinking about using this remedy, it might be worthwhile checking out the selection of coconut oil available at Your Health Food Store
- Oatmeal: Oatmeal is not just a breakfast staple; it is also a great at exfoliating our skin and removing dead skin cells. Once these cells are gone, it can allow us to treat the raw and sensitive skin underneath. You can apply oatmeal topically to your skin as a paste or add a couple of handfuls to your bath
- Lemon juice: Popular in the kitchen as a cleaning agent and a zesty accompaniment, lemon is renowned for its excellent anti-sceptic and anti-bacterial properties, able to kill bacteria and parasites. You can apply a diluted lemon juice formula directly to your skin or try mixing in a little turmeric powder, a powerful spice that is capable of killing scabies mites3
- Honey: Raw, unprocessed Manuka honey can act as an anti-sceptic agent, reducing the presence of unfriendly bacteria on the skin and preventing us from contracting a secondary infection. It can also hydrate our skin and attack the scabies mite by forcibly ejecting them.4 You can apply honey topically to the affected areas, just make sure to wash it all off thoroughly
- Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar has natural anti-sceptic properties and can kill scabies due to its high levels of PH.5 You can apply this remedy directly to your skin, just take care to dilute it with a little water first. Your Health Food Store has a great range of apple cider vinegar products that might be worth your consideration.
Herbal remedies should enable you to cope and reduce your Norwegian scabies symptoms. If you notice any concerning changes in your condition, then please speak to your doctor in order to avoid any further complications.
- Neem cream: The virtues of neem have been much extoled when it comes to fighting outbreaks of scabies, with 97% of test subjects in a recent study stating that their scabies symptoms cleared up after using extracts from the plant.6 Neem cream can be applied topically to ease skin irritation and swelling, and if you are suffering from scalpel symptoms, you could try neem shampoo
- Echinaforce®: If you feel that your immune system could be stronger, then it might be worth trying Echinaforce® to give your system a boost. Made using extracts from the Echinacea plant, this licensed herbal remedy will help to strengthen your immune system while Echinacea cream can help to hydrate damaged and dry skin
- Stress relief daytime: Suffering from Norwegian scabies can be a stressful and demoralising experience, often making you feel emotionally drained and generally unhappy. Stress Relief Daytime is a natural stress remedy that can help to restore feelings of confidence and control, helping you to cope in stressful or difficult situations
- Dormeasan®: If your scabies symptoms are disrupting your sleep pattern, then why not try a herbal sleep remedy, like Dormeasan®? Containing extracts of Valerian and Hops, Dormeasan is a non-drowsy solution that will not leave you feel tired or confused the next day and will work to restore a normal sleeping pattern during this troubling time.
In the case of Norwegian scabies, over the counter drugs are not likely to be very effective. Your doctor will instead recommend stronger medication, which can sometimes have complementing side-effects.
If your medication is not working for you, then you should go and speak to your doctor immediately in order to discern an alternative course.
- Insecticides: You might feel more comfortable if this treatment was being prescribed for your garden and not your skin, but topical and oral insecticides are often utilised in the war against scabies mites. These are not your typical insecticides that you might pick up at your local Home and Gardens, but rather they work as an anti-parasitic, killing the mites and their eggs. Ivermectin is usually prescribed in cases of Norwegian scabies but it can cause a range of side-effects from dizziness to nausea. If you suspect that this treatment is aggravating your symptoms then you should go back to your doctor as soon as possible
- Anti-depressants: Scabies can have a pronounced psychological impact on patients, especially if it is a more severe form such as Norwegian scabies. They often feel exhausted trying to fight off their symptoms and their mood and disposition generally suffers as a result. In these instances, your doctor may prescribe you a course of anti-depressants, in order to alleviate any emotional or psychological symptoms. However, the success of anti-depressants can vary from person to person and you may have to try a few variants before you find one that works well for you.