Avoiding the rash of summer
Dermatologists explore sun activated skin condition

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

RANKIN INLET (Apr 23/97) - Summer. It's often thought of as an opportunity to get outside, play sports, fish and have fun.

But for those who suffer from a skin condition called actinic prurigo, bright sunny days are anything but enjoyable.

Symptoms of the condition include skin rashes on the hands, face, back of neck and any other part of the body that's normally exposed to the sun.

The rash can be quite itchy and, if scratched, open sores may occur. When healed, permanent marks may be left.

"It's very troublesome to the people who get it," said Marni Wiseman, resident-in-dermatology with the University of Manitoba.

Wiseman was in Rankin Inlet recently researching the condition.

Inuit and First Nations people are prone to the condition and often have to wear gloves, caps and clothes to protect themselves from exposure.

Wiseman and several other researchers, including Dr. John Toole, head of the dermatology section at University of Manitoba, initiated work in Rankin Inlet two weeks ago to come up with a trustworthy treatment for the skin condition.

While in Rankin Inlet, the two interviewed 32 people with the condition.

Patients were asked to fill out questionnaires, take a skin exam, submit to blood tests and also give urine and stool samples.

"The primary goal of this whole project is to improve patient care and also get a better understanding of the clinical and laboratory features of actinic prurigo," said Wiseman.

Following tests, each patient was given two types of skin creams.

They are to apply one cream -- a new sun block containing titanium dioxide -- to one side of their body and another lotion sun screen to the other side.

Wiseman said they're supposed to apply these creams daily until she arrives back in Rankin Inlet in August.

"If one is better than the other it could be a new kind of therapy for people suffering from actinic prurigo," she said.

Wiseman didn't know how serious the skin condition is in Rankin Inlet or among Inuit people in general.

The 32 people who came forward make up 1.5 per cent of Rankin's population, but she thinks there are more people who suffer. In fact, she thinks "it's just the tip of the iceberg."

People wondering if they have actinic prurigo should review their family history and determine if others have had the condition.

The most notable indicator of the condition is breaking out in a rash in spring but in the fall it goes away.

Wiseman said actinic prurigo is not hives or an allergic reaction to the sun.

The condition was commonly known years ago as hereditary polymorphic light eruption (HPLE). Actinic prurigo is slightly different in that it's connected only to aboriginal people.

The last research on actinic prurigo was done in Rankin Inlet in 1984 by Dr. Pam Orr and Dr. Abe Birt.

"It's really been neglected for a very long time," said Wiseman.