Scabies Outbreak in Immigrant Camps: Medical Screenings by Non-Medical Personnel


Home / Scabies Outbreak in Immigrant Camps: Medical Screenings by Non-Medical Personnel

Scabies mites are microscopic – but can cause intense itching. Image courtesy of the U.S. CDC.

Some immigrant minors are coming into the United States with diseases such as scabies and tuberculosis. How contagious is scabies, and should we worry about it coming into the general population?

Border Patrol Member Gets Scabies

According to FOX News, the Border Patrol union has claimed that one of their agents contracted scabies. The most detailed information regarding medical concerns and illegal immigrants comes from the San Diego Local 1613 chapter of the National Border Patrol Council.

Ronald Zermeno, health and safety director for the San Diego chapter wrote to a top California Border Patrol Official in a July 4th letter stating, “Border Patrol management is aware of the scabies outbreak but continue to ignore recommendations.”

A Border Patrol agent who contracted scabies was apparently doing medical screenings on detained immigrants, but was not a medical professional, according to FOX news. Untrained in the proper procedures, this agent did not properly decontaminate himself or his uniform, and caught the disease as a result.

Infectious diseases, such as scabies can spread quickly if proper precautions and decontamination methods are not followed – that can mean outbreaks in the community.

What are Scabies?

Scabies is a condition that can be uncomfortable, and won’t go away on its own, but isn’t life-threatening. A mite called Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis causes scabies. These tiny (microscopic) mites burrow the upper layer of your dermis (skin) to lay their eggs. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you get scabies, you’re most likely to have a pimple-like rash and intense itching.

This is a photo of someone with scabies in their lower legs. Excessive scratching breaks the skin, and can lead to scarring. Image by the CDC.

You can get scabies if you have direct, prolonged contact with someone who has scabies. If you’ve never had scabies before, it can take four to six weeks before symptoms to develop. During that period, however, you can still spread scabies. If you have had scabies before, you’ll start seeing symptoms just a few days after you were exposed. Border patrol and other workers who are working with the children arriving on the U.S. Border should take precautions – not only to avoid becoming infested, but to stop the spread of this skin condition among the children.

Treating Scabies

Doctors prescribe scabicides – products that kill the mites and sometimes their eggs – to treat scabies. There are no over-the-counter medications to get rid of the mites. Treatment of scabies often includes people in the same household, as they may have had direct contact with the infected person, so it’s possible that large numbers of the child-immigrants will require treatment as well.

Scabies can live on you for one to two months, and on surfaces or clothing for 48-72 hours. The mites will die in temperatures greater than 122 degrees, so you can decontaminate clothes, bedding, towels, and other household items by washing them in hot water and drying with the hot cycle on your dryer. If you can’t fit any object into your washing machine, isolate it from human contact for 72 hours to allow the mites to die.

If left untreated, scabies can persist for many months or even years, and sometimes is referred to as the “seven year itch” according to Penn Medicine. Generally, the prognosis is good for patients who receive treatment.

Scabies: Infectious, but Treatable

Scabies is an infectious disease that is treatable with medication prescribed by a doctor. By taking the proper precautions, health officials can prevent outbreaks. The kids in immigrant camps across the southern United States may be receiving treatment as a group, to prevent the mites from spreading further.

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