Objective: To compare the acaricidal activity of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil (TTO) and some of its individual active components on the itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei var hominis.
Design: In vitro acaricide sensitivity assessment.
Setting: The Menzies School of Health Research laboratory, located near the Infectious Diseases Ward of the Royal Darwin Hospital, Australia, where patients are admitted and treated for crusted scabies.
Participants: Scabies mites (S scabiei var hominis) were collected from a 20-year-old Aboriginal woman admitted to the Royal Darwin Hospital with crusted scabies. Interventions Within 3 hours of collection, scabies mites were placed in continuous direct contact with the TTO products and control acaricides and were observed at regular intervals.
Main outcome measures: Percentage of mites dead at regular observation intervals between 5 minutes and 24 hours during continuous exposure to the TTO products and acaricides.
Results: The 5% TTO and active component terpinen-4-ol were highly effective in reducing mite survival times. Statistically significant differences in mite survival curves were observed for 5% TTO, 2.1% terpinen-4-ol, 5% permethrin, and ivermectin (100 microg/g of Emulsifying Ointment British Pharmacopoeia 88). In vivo effectiveness was also observed.
Conclusions: Documentation of resistance against antiectoparasitic compounds is increasing. Reported S scabiei treatment failures with lindane, crotamiton, and benzyl benzoate, as well as likely emerging resistance to 5% permethrin and oral ivermectin, are of concern and advocate for the identification and development of novel acaricidal drugs. Tea tree oil is a membrane-active biocide extracted from the tree M alternifolia. It is a principal antimicrobial in a wide range of pharmaceuticals sold in Australia, with the main active component being oxygenated terpenoids. The results suggest that TTO has a potential role as a new topical acaricide and confirm terpinen-4-ol as the primary active component.