With the bare mention of the word scabies, many people start shuddering and itching spontaneously. Scabies is especially annoying because of the itchiness, and often causes anxiety because it is a contagious infectious disease caused by a parasite.
The main symptom of scabies is intense itching, but often the emotional burden is high because of the fear of infecting others (scabies are very contagious!) and the idea of having ‘parasites’
Scabies are caused by the scabies mite Sarcoptes scabei. This is a small creature. The female mite burrows a small corridor (about 1 cm long) into the skin where she lays her eggs. When they come out, new mites come out that make new steps.
The skin abnormalities that you see with scabies are the corridors the mites have dug and are visible as a red line. Around it are red bumps that are very itchy, especially at night. Scabies usually occur on the wrists, between the fingers, the armpits and the feet.
Scabies is usually transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. You can get infected if you have more than close contact with the skin of someone who has scabies. This can happen, for example, when washing or dressing a patient or resident.
The spread of scabies is more common in health care institutions because there is a lot of close physical contact between patients and residents and their caregiver.
It is important to recognize that anyone can get scabies, it has nothing to do with poor personal hygiene. There are however several measures professional health care facilities can take to avoid or prevent outbreaks.
The risk of scabies increases if you come into contact with people who are infected, which is more likely to happen when working or living in a health care institution. Some groups of people are susceptible to a worse form of scabies, such as those with reduced immune resistance or people who cannot scratch themselves (perhaps because they lack control over their muscles or they are paralyzed).
In addition, scabies are a risk for travelers (due to reduced hygienic conditions) and people with varying sexual contacts.
In a first infection, the incubation period of scabies takes about 2 to 6 weeks. In the case of a renewed contamination, the symptoms occur much faster; generally 1 to 4 days after the contamination.
Scabies do not go away on their own and must be treated with creams prescribed by the doctor. Approximately 12 hours after an effective treatment, scabies are no longer contagious.
Housemates and other people with whom the person with scabies has had long-term, intensive skin contact may be infected and should undergo treatment. In order to prevent re-infestation, these persons must be treated simultaneously, even if they have no symptoms.
Protective wear is the backbone of good hygiene. Protective wear enhances safety, protecting against cross-contamination and passing of infections.
According to WHO, proper protcols for cleaning, disinfection and sterilization of surroundings and medical equipment must be employed in order to prevent spread of HAIs. Read more about cleaning in the health care sector.