Scabies outbreak poses health threat

Nicole Bennett

Students are breaking out with scabies.

Higher than normal reports of scabies on campus have students and faculty concerned.

 According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is a microscopic mite infestation of the skin, which spreads through prolonged skin contact. Pimple-like irritations usually appear in skin folds on the wrist, elbow and knee and between fingers. It is common to find irritations on the penis, breast or shoulder blades.

“Lots of other rashes can look like scabies,” Patricia Haddeland, clinic coordinator and board-certified nurse practitioner, said. “It is important to do a thorough examination. The ultimate test is a skin scraping and identification of the mite itself.”

Scabies is contracted through extended contact with the skin of an infected person, such as cuddling through a movie or sleeping in the same bed.

Those with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of infestation. Students are advised to avoid sharing clothing, towels or bedding with anyone who has scabies. Activities such as shaking hands and hugs do not allow enough exposure time for infestation.

Pets become infested with a different scabies mite that does not affect humans. Pet mites would cause only slight itching and irritation for a day or two before they die because they do not reproduce on humans. 

Herron said he thinks he contracted scabies from sleeping in the bed of a friend’s roommate in Seattle.

 “The worst part of my personal experience was not being sure where it came or how to deal with it,” sophomore Scott Herron said. “It has been a physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting ordeal, but if you get treated early, it will not be as bad as I had it.”

On a person, mites can live up to a month, but they die within 72 hours once away from the body. Haddeland recommends students wash their clothing and bedding.

“Scabies can travel from person to person or through contaminated clothing,” Haddeland said. “Someone could have picked it up over Winter or Spring Break and brought it to campus without realizing it.”

Haddeland recommends students put non-washable items in sealable bags, or call Facilities Services to wash the carpet. Students can get bags from their Resident Adviser.

“The school administration should try to help by offering free and easy access to the health center, cleaning services and accommodations for infected and potentially infected students,”Herron said.

Students can make appointments at the Student Health Center if they suspect they have scabies. Contact Jeff Mackay, associate dean of students and director of Residence Life, or the Health Center for further information. For more information on scabies, go to www.cdc.gov.

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