Researchers say video-game enthusiasts could run a risk of getting scabies. File photo: Patrik Lundin/TT.

Scabies linked to computer games

"The itch is terrible"
1:59 min

Researchers claim the rise in scabies among young Swedes could be linked to new lifestyle patterns, with young people spending long periods playing video games together in intimate settings.

Young people are often warned that spending too much time in front of computer screens can be bad for them. Video games have been blamed for everything from damaging eye sight to causing anti-social behaviour. Now, some Swedish researchers even claim that video games can lead to scabies.

Scabies is a contagious skin infection caused by tiny mites that burrow under the skin. It leads to intense itching and the mites can jump from human to human either via skin-to-skin contact or via objects - like tablets or computers. Scabies has become more common among young people in recent years.

"We think changing lifestyles are behind the increase in scabies - the fact that you tend to sit very close to each other on the couch and share tablets or play video games together for long periods at a stretch," parasitologist Johan Lindh tells Swedish Radio.

Lindh says that physical contact among young people is not a new thing, but today they tend to spend more time sitting tightly next to one another, he says.

Scabies is highly contagious. Signs and symptoms of the skin disease include a rash - small, red bumps and blisters - and relentless itching. But there are cures: oral medicines and ointments. The trouble is many tend to confuse scabies with eczema, Lindh says, and so that is why it does not tend to get discovered early enough.

Even though it is extremely irritating, scabies is pretty harmless in most cases. There are exceptions, however, according to Lindh.

"There are forms of scabies where you can get hundreds of thousands of animals on you and then it could be fatal. It could lead to bacterial infections. That often happens to people who are weak and it's very rare in Sweden," says Lindh.

"The itch is terrible even if you have just 20 or 30 animals on you, so when you get 100,000, well then you can almost scratch yourself to death. You can get wounds that can get infected."

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