Scurvy makes surprise return in Australia

Two oranges growing in a citrus orchard. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Eating a large orange each day provides enough vitamin C for the body

Doctors in Australia have reported a resurgence in patients suffering from scurvy.

The disease, historically associated with sea explorers, has been found in about a dozen diabetes patients at Westmead Hospital in western Sydney.

Scurvy is now a rare condition caused by having too little vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, in your diet.

Professor Jenny Gunton discovered the latest cases after treating a patient whose leg wound would not heal.

The findings have been detailed in the international journal Diabetic Medicine.

"In the report that's just come out I've had seven people with vitamin C deficiencies," said Prof Gunton, who heads the Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Endocrinology research at The Westmead Institutes.

"Since that time there would have been another six or seven."

She said scurvy could be more widespread than previously thought.

What is scurvy?

  • Without vitamin C, the body cannot make collagen - which is essential for your skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage.
  • Symptoms include feeling tired all the time, lack of appetite, joint pain, shortness of breath and easily bruised skin.
  • It affects people who do not have a healthy diet including those on fad diets, the homeless, the elderly and those with eating disorders.
  • Fruits including oranges, lemons and strawberries are good sources of vitamins C along with broccoli, cabbage and asparagus.

"There's no particular link to diabetes ... except that if you have a poor quality diet you're more likely to get diabetes," Prof Gunton told the BBC.

"But of course, a lot of people with diabetes eat perfectly reasonable diets."

Health authorities in Australia do not generally test for scurvy or keep statistics on patients suffering from it.

However, Prof Gunton said the disease was easy to prevent.

"Eat some fruit, eat some vegetables - and don't overcook the vegetables," she said.

"If you really can't manage that, take one vitamin C a day. But healthy diet is the better fix."

Is scurvy making a comeback?

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