Parents of students attending Birżebbuġa Primary school are being warned to be on alert after new cases of scabies emerged within the school. A letter was distributed to parents with this warning.
Scabies is not an infection, but an infestation. Tiny mites called Sarcoptes scabiei set up shop in the outer layers of human skin. The skin does not take kindly to the invasion. As the mites burrow and lay eggs inside the skin, the infestation leads to relentless itching and an angry rash.
When a person is infested with scabies for the first time, it can take four to six weeks for the skin to react. The most common symptoms are:
- Intense itching, especially at night
- A pimple-like rash
- Scales or blisters
- Sores caused by scratching
Scabies mites can live anywhere on the body, but some of their favorite spots include:
- Between the fingers
- The folds of the wrist, elbow, or knee
- Around the waistline and navel
- On the breasts or genitals
- The head, neck, face, palms, and soles in very young children
Scabies typically spreads through prolonged, skin-to-skin contact that gives the mites time to crawl from one person to another. Shared personal items, such as bedding or towels, may occasionally be to blame. Scabies can be passed easily between family members or sexual partners. It is not likely to spread through a quick handshake or hug. The scabies mite can’t jump or fly, and it crawls very slowly.
Anyone can get scabies, but those at higher risk include:
- Sexually active adults
- Prison inmates
- People in institutional care
- People living in crowded conditions
- People in child care facilities
Scabies outbreaks occasionally strike schools and daycare centers. Young children tend to play in ways that involve skin-to-skin contact.
Scabies will not go away on its own. It can only be cured with prescription medications that kill the mites. Treatment is a cream or lotion that is applied to the entire body from the neck down in most cases. It is left on for 8 to 14 hours and then washed off. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe pills to treat scabies. Treatment takes up to three days, depending on the medication used.
When someone is diagnosed with scabies, anyone who has close physical contact with the person should also be treated. Close contact includes bathing together, sleeping in the same bed, or even holding hands. Doctors usually recommend treating all members of the household, even if symptoms are not present. (Remember, it can take four to six weeks for symptoms to appear.)
Scabies mites can live up to two to three days on the surface of clothes, bedding, or towels. To make sure these mites are killed, wash any sheets and clothing used by the affected person within the past three days. Wash the items in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer or take them to a dry-cleaner. Items that can’t be washed should be placed in a sealed plastic bag for seven days.