Scabies scare raises additional concerns over public health among students

By Deena Wicker, Nov. 8, 2022

Several members of the English department were informed of potential scabies cases on Oct. 12, allowing professors the option to temporarily move their courses to virtual format.

It was later discovered that only one case was unofficially reported, according to Allison Baker, professor and department chair of the English and Modern Languages department. In “an abundance of caution,” Baker requested that English classrooms in buildings 5, 9 and 24 were cleaned by the Environmental Health and Safety department to alleviate student apprehensions.

“(Students) were concerned; they were nervous and uninformed about how scabies is transmitted,” said Baker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a general scabies infestation occurs when microscopic mites burrow under the uppermost layer of the skin, causing itchiness and a small, bumpy rash. It is spread through “direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact.”

A diagnosis requires confirmation of existing mites, which can be found by through their presence of eggs or feces. Treatment includes the application of scabicides, prescribed medications used to kill mites and their eggs. Typically, alleviation is seen within two to four weeks of treatment.

Another variation of scabies, Norwegian — or crusted — scabies, is a more severe form of scabies that poses a higher risk to immunocompromised individuals. It has a higher transmission than scabies due to a larger number of mites and is typically treated orally.

Though Norwegian scabies poses a larger threat to student health, diagnosis and treatment are readily available through Student Health and Wellness Services.

“We can diagnose scabies; it’s not anything like COVID,” said Rita O’Neill, the Student Health and Wellness Services administrative director. “It’s not anything respiratory or airborne.”

According to O’Neill the Student Health Center never received symptom reports or case confirmations, leaving administration with limited options.

Deena Wicker | The Poly Post

“Basically, we communicated with faculty about any information; we put out talking points about what it is, what it isn’t and that it’s easily treatable,” said O’Neill.  “It’s all we could do.”

Students were notified through email and Discord group chats by their professors, alerting them to possible afflictions in buildings 5, 9 and 24. Many expressed anxieties due to the uncertainty of the situation, believing the lack of an announcement was irresponsible of university officials.

“If you’re aware of … students who are carrying it, I don’t need to know their names,” said English education student James Radigan. “I just need to know what’s going on, where they’ve been and how to avoid it.”

Radigan  felt the situation should have been handled with more urgency, considering ongoing public health issues such as COVID and monkeypox. At the time, the number of cases and classrooms affected was unknown to students and professors.

With no reports, diagnoses or evident threats to student health, SHS could not officially announce an outbreak. Additionally, the condition’s low transmission rates and accessible treatment would not warrant an official announcement, given the health center’s previous ability to diagnose and treat it.

In response to the call for a statement, O’Neill urges students to report any symptoms they believe to be of public concern to the Student Health Center. With an official report, SHS is properly able to determine an ailment’s level of concern and securely inform students accordingly.

Students may contact the Student Health and Wellness Center for reports, appointments and general health information.

Feature image by Deena Wicker 

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