SEATTLE – Madison Middle School parents in West Seattle were concerned when they got a message from the principal Wednesday afternoon alerting them to a case of scabies.
“That’s horrible, it stays with you for weeks,” says Jennifer Galer, the mother of a student. “You need medication and doctor visits.”
Just a couple months ago, 16 students at South Kitsap High School in Port Orchard were diagnosed with scabies. The public health department was notified, and the school underwent a thorough cleaning and disinfection.
Right now, there’s only been one isolated case at Madison Middle School. But the infection, which is caused by microscopic mites, does spread easily from skin-to-skin contact.
“There are no real proper precautions if they’re at school. It can be contracted through anything they touch. There’s not a whole lot you can do other than say wash your hands. You can’t tell them not to touch anything,” says Galer.
“I taught preschool for 15 years, so it was the lice outbreaks and the flu,” adds Jessica Kantner, another parent. “There’s not a lot you can do to prevent other than send the child home, make sure they get treated.”
Dermatologist Sacharitha Bowers says scabies is actually quite prevalent in crowded, urban areas. She says it’s good the school let parents know about the outbreak, but there’s no reason for panic.
“It’s contagious, but it’s not a cause to keep children away from school if they’re not having symptoms.”
She says parents should watch if children start itching or develop small bumps or blisters on their skin, then seek medical treatment.
Even though scabies is not an indication of poor hygiene, Francisco Vivas is going to warn his younger sister to stay as clean as possible when she’s at school.
“I think the kids have to take more precautions, use hand sanitizer, wash your hands, try not to share food, regular stuff, common sense.”
Bowers says that’s good advice for people of any age.
“Our hands are often our first point of contact for any kind of organism. So if it’s on your hands and you’re washing your hands frequently, you’re not giving something time to really settle in. So I think that’s applicable for anything, scabies, and other viral illnesses.”
Scabies is easily treated with a topical cream. Students can return to school once they get that treatment, and they don’t have to worry about infecting others.
Families that have questions can contact the school nurse or their own health care provider.