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Refugee crisis: skin diseases commonly associated with refugees, migrants

The refugee crisis prompted a plenary session at the 13th European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology Spring Symposium (EADV) in Athens in May 2016, about the potential dermatological conditions that can impact refugees and migrants.

“It’s time to talk about the refugee crisis in Europe in relation to our specialty,” said Prof. Roderick Hay, professor of cutaneous infection at King’s College London and adviser to the International Foundation for Dermatology, who was the keynote speaker at the plenary session of the Symposium, in a press release. “Skin diseases are common in the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged communities leading to discomfort, disfigurement, and further marginalisation."

He continued, “the unhygienic and overcrowded conditions in which refugees have to live, lead to the development and spread of skin diseases. However, many of these have simple remedies. It’s our responsibility as dermatologists to provide care and also train the aid workers who work in refugee camps to [properly] diagnose and to use the simple cost-effective treatments and preventive measures that are available.”

Infections related to poor hygiene, living conditions

“Refugees and migrants often come from communities affected by war or economic crisis and undertake long, exhausting journeys that increase their risks for diseases. Therefore, at arrival, the most common skin diseases seen are infections related to poor hygiene and living conditions in overcrowded spaces, such as scabies, pediculosis, and bacterial skin infections. Scald injuries and other infected traumas of the skin are also common, as well as dermatitis due to sun exposure and contact with sea water,” added Dr. Valeska Padovese, a dermatology and venereology consultant, Genito-Urinary Clinic of Mater Dei Hospital, Malta, during her talk.

Dr. Federica Dassoni, a Milan-based dermatologist, brought up the challenge of recognizing skin diseases that are not common in Europe anymore. “We should be able to recognize, or at least suspect diseases that we are not used to seeing anymore, for example cutaneous leishmaniasis and cutaneous tuberculosis,” she explained.

Patients may have PTSD

Prof. Jan Gutermuth, from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, explained that torture has been reported in many countries around the world during the last years and refugees often come from vulnerable groups. Torture survivors usually do not speak about their experiences, even to medical doctors.

They can show distinctive skin findings, which should be recognized. Even if the skin has healed, torture survivors often suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, which has debilitating effects that can include anxiety, depression, self-isolation, withdrawal, memory and concentration impairments, nightmares, and many more. In addition, neurologic or orthopedic complications can arise from torture and so it is important for health care providers to refer the victims to appropriate medical and psychological help.

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