For 18 years treatment with lindane or crotamiton products has failed to stem the epidemic of scabies among the Kuna Indians in the San Blas islands of the Republic of Panama. Permethrin 5% cream was introduced as the only treatment in a programme to control scabies on an island of 756 inhabitants and involving workers recruited locally. Prevalence fell from 33% to less than 1% after every person was treated. As long as continued surveillance and treatment of newly introduced cases was maintained, prevalence of scabies remained below 1.5% for over 3 years. When supply of medication was interrupted for 3 weeks, prevalence rose to 3.6%. When control was lost after the US invasion of Panama, prevalence rose to 12% within 3 months. Bacterial skin infections decreased dramatically when scabies was controlled. Permethrin is safe and effective even in areas where this disease has become resistant to lindane.