Scabies is a disease that causes an itchy rash after a mite burrows into the skin and lays eggs there. It’s spread through extended skin-to-skin contact.
Local health departments are investigating a scabies outbreak in the county.
Area health care and long-term care facilities have diagnosed an unusual number of scabies patients in recent months. But health officials said not to panic, as scabies usually isn’t highly transmissible and is easily treated.
“Right now, it’s not unmanageable,” said Sherry Smith, nurse manager with the Stark County Health Department.
HOW SCABIES IS SPREAD
A person gets scabies after a mite burrows into his or her skin and lays eggs. The disease is spread through extended skin-to-skin contact and is usually passed by household or sexual partners. It can take four to six weeks for a person who’s never had scabies to display symptoms, but they can still transfer the disease before that. The most common symptoms are a pimple-like rash and “intense itching,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Someone with scabies typically carries between 15 to 20 mites. But for those who are elderly or have compromised immune systems, the body isn’t prepared to fight off the mites, and the person develops what’s called crusted scabies. In those cases, the person can have up to a million mites, said Christina Henning, epidemiologist with the Canton City Health Department.
“Your transmission is obviously going to be a lot easier,” she said. “That’s the challenge.”
There are almost always a few scabies cases in the community, said Margaret Kobe, an infectious disease doctor at Mercy Medical Center, and it’s not clear what caused the recent increase.
When a health care facility treats an individual scabies case, its physicians don’t have to report that case to the health department. When a facility encounters an abnormal number of cases, however, scabies becomes a reportable condition, Henning said.
Smith said two cases of a communicable disease at one institution is often considered an outbreak because that means the disease has spread.
Because the outbreak is under investigation, health department officials would not give the total number of health care and long-term care facilities that have treated cases or identify specific facilities.
The scabies outbreak is not concentrated in one area but is “widespread across the whole county,” Smith said.
A statement from Mercy Medical Center said the Canton health department had identified cases in at least 11 long-term care facilities and that the hospital had seen an increase in the number of people with scabies admitted.
Henning said the investigation “took on full force” in May when the department identified a Canton resident who had crusted scabies. The Canton and Stark County departments are working in collaboration with the Alliance and Massillon health departments.
Several neighboring county health departments said Friday they hadn’t been dealing with scabies cases.
Page 2 of 2 - PREVENTION AND TREATMENT
Scabies isn’t seasonal, but summertime can make diagnosis more difficult because people are outside and in contact with insects and allergens. Henning encouraged anyone with an untreated skin condition to ask a health care provider whether it’s scabies.
The disease is treated with a prescription cream and can be prevented by avoiding skin contact with someone known to have scabies, Henning said.
In cases of crusted scabies, treatment is more aggressive and might include a combination of pills and cream, Kobe said.
She said there seems to be an outbreak every few years. When the disease goes unrecognized, it’s not treated and ends up spreading.
“Scabies is something we’ve been trying to educate the medical community about,” she said.
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What is scabies?
A person gets scabies when a mite burrows under his or her skin and lays eggs, which causes the person’s skin to become infested. It can take between four to six weeks for symptoms to develop in someone who’s never had scabies before, but the mites can still be spread during that time. The disease shows up as an itchy, pimple-like rash and is spread through extended skin-to-skin contact.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Stark County Health Department