Feeing itchy lately? Finding little red bumps on your skin? Think it’s probably just a rash? Well, you might want to think again. During the past couple of weeks, Millikin has had an encounter with scabies.
Wondering what scabies is? Scabies is a contagious skin condition that causes severe itchiness due to microscopic mites that burrow into the skin. These mites, known scientifically as Sarcoptes scabiei, are skin parasites that belong to the same class as spiders and ticks. They are attracted to the warmth and smell of humans. Female mites penetrate and dig into the skin, creating small, threadlike tunnels that are sometimes visible. The mites then lay eggs and leave feces in these tunnels, which causing the intense, allergic itching. Scabies is spread by being in close contact with an infected person. The mites work their way from one person to the next very slowly, which is why close, intimate contact like sleeping in the same bed as a person with scabies is discouraged.
“So far this fall I have seen two people who have had scabies,” stated Elizabeth Campbell, a nurse practitioner at the Millikin Wellness Center.
However, there could be other students who may have been infected but gone to another clinic to be treated. “Last spring we had a case of about five people with scabies, and they were all in pretty close relationships,” elaborated Campbell.
The most common ways it can spread is through the sharing of bed sheets or blankets, towels, and other personal belongings, such as a brush. That being said, the two groups of people who are at a highest risk of exposure to scabies mites are sexually active young adults and people who live in crowded living conditions.
“The scabies mite can live up to two days on clothing or bed linens, so the first person would have picked it up where a mite was living, like a motel,” said Campbell. It can be several weeks before a person experiences itchiness and skin sores if it is their first time contracting scabies. The itching caused by these mites is usually worse at night and causes a rash with tiny blisters or sores. The tell-tale characteristic of scabies used in diagnosis is the burrows made by the mites.
However, a definitive diagnosis can be made when either a scabies mite or their eggs are found. Unfortunately, scabies will not go away on its own. Typically, a doctor will prescribe a lotion or cream that will eventually eradicate the infectious parasites. The easiest way to prevent getting scabies is by avoiding close contact with an infected person or using any of their personal items.
“You would need to have pretty close contact with an infected person to get it,” asserted Campbell. “The person with scabies would need to know that they had it, and then other people would want to avoid that contact with them.”
Once the patient is treated with a pesticide and thoroughly launders their bedding and clothing, they are no longer contagious.
During this time of year, when the spread of germs and sickness is more likely, it is a good idea to be extra careful and not share any personal belongings. The spread of this infection can thankfully, be easily avoided.