Officials at the Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario issued a warning for the community earlier this week because of a scabies outbreak that has required treatment for more than 1,600 patients, staff and volunteers.

Scabies mite/CDC
Scabies mite/CDC

The outbreak of scabies started on Sep. 29 from a fourth floor patient who acquired the infestation from the community. The hospital said, “Over the past 9 days, we have worked to implement all reasonable precautions as outlined through Ontario Hospital Association protocols.”

In addition to the 1,600-plus people treated for the itch mite, 1,200 former patients have been notified of possible exposure to scabies.

Scabies is caused by an infestation by the eight-legged “itch mite”, Sarcoptes scabiei. the mites burrow into the skin and lay eggs.

These burrows are tiny threadlike projections, ranging from 2 mm-15 mm long that appear as thin gray, brown, or red lines in affected areas. The burrows can be very difficult to see.

Transfer of this mite from person to person typically occurs through prolonged direct contact with infested skin. Transfer from undergarments and bedclothes occur only if these have been contaminated by an infested person immediately beforehand.

Outbreaks have happened in nursing home and similar institutions, albeit rare.

It may take up to two months for symptoms to appear after initial infestation. Scabies produces skin rash composed of small red bumps and blisters and affects specific areas of the body.

Lesions are prominent around finger webs, wrist and elbows, armpits, belt line, thighs and genitalia of males and nipples, abdomen and buttocks are frequently affected in women. In infants; the head, neck palms and soles may be involved.

Itching is intense, especially at night and complications due to secondary bacterial infections with staph and strep are possible.

The hospital advises the public that when you visit the hospital for matters of business you will continue to see staff providing direct care with the use of gowns and gloves. This is in place as a preventative measure for protecting staff and patients and to take reasonable precautions to minimize skin-to-skin contact.

In addition, they say if you are attending the hospital and are in direct contact with patients, we ask you to follow the following instructions:

  • Clean your hands with hand sanitizer
  • Put on a clean gown
  • Put on one pair of gloves
  • Wear gown and gloves only while visiting in patient room
  • Before leaving the patient room, please remove gown and gloves.

Please repeat this process each time you enter and exit the room. Please remember to clean your hands before and after your hospital visit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following to prevent and control scabies:

Scabies is prevented by avoiding direct skin-to-skin contact with an infested person or with items such as clothing or bedding used by an infested person. Scabies treatment usually is recommended for members of the same household, particularly for those who have had prolonged skin-to-skin contact. All household members and other potentially exposed persons should be treated at the same time as the infested person to prevent possible reexposure and reinfestation.

Bedding and clothing worn or used next to the skin anytime during the 3 days before treatment should be machine washed and dried using the hot water and hot dryer cycles or be dry-cleaned. Items that cannot be dry-cleaned or laundered can be disinfested by storing in a closed plastic bag for several days to a week. Scabies mites generally do not survive more than 2 to 3 days away from human skin. Children and adults usually can return to child care, school, or work the day after treatment.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

Follow @bactiman63