When you hear the term scabies you may have flashbacks to your high school health classes when you learned that scabies is a really unfortunate sexually transmitted illness (STI). Turns out sexual contact is only one of the ways you can contract scabies, as Canadians have learned the hard way. Recently a Quebec hospital was hit with a scabies outbreak, and nine employees have been infected so far. 

The hospital in question is Pierre-Le Gardeur Hospital in Terrebonne, Quebec. An employee there is said to have contracted scabies out in the community and proceeded to spread it to his co-workers at the hospital. Fortunately, TVA Nouvelles reports that no patients were infected. 

This case, where nine hospital workers have been infected, is a prime example of how scabies isn't just an STI. While sexual contact is the most common way scabies spreads, the disease, which is actually a parasite, can be spread from any direct skin contact and also from bedding, towels, or other fabrics. 

Scabies is also able to live off of humans, for example on fabrics, for 24 to 36 hours, which is why it can spread so easily, especially in a hospital environment. It can also spread even before people start showing symptoms. 

Speaking of symptoms, the main symptom of scabies is itching. As a parasite, scabies gets under people's skin, literally. The mites burrow into human skin, causing an allergic reaction which is what causes the itching. For whatever reason, the itching tends to be worse in children and at night time. 

The itching can also be accompanied by a blistery rash. Some hotspots on humans where scabies symptoms are most likely to occur are: 

  • between the fingers, on the palms, and on the inside of the wrists 
  • on the outside of the elbows and on the inside of the armpits 
  • around the waist and belly button
  • on the butt
  • on women's breasts 
  • on men's genitals 

Unfortunately for Canada, the recent outbreak in Quebec is the second hospital case in recent months. Just in March, CBC reported that the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre reported a scabies outbreak that potentially put 200 ICU patients at risk. 

In that case, Alberta Health said that any patients who had been in their intensive care unit between October 6, 2018 and March 5, 2019, were at risk. They said they contacted all 200 of those patients directly. 

At both of the hospitals were scabies outbreaks have occurred appropriate measures have been taken to prevent any further spread of the parasite. 

The good news is that scabies isn't typically deadly but it won't go away on its own. In order to cure scabies, people are usually given a specific cream or ointment which is then applied to the entire body from the neck down. While the cream will likely kill the mites, people will be itchy for two to four weeks afterwards as that's how long the allergic reaction can last. 

On top of using the cream, people with scabies are advised to clean any clothes, bedding, and linens that they may have used or touched prior to starting treatment. It's also suggested to clean and vacuum any rooms they may have been in. 

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