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Scabies outbreak infected about a dozen residents at Woodingford Lodge in Woodstock

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A long-term care home in Woodstock is coming out on the other side of a scabies outbreak that infected about a dozen residents.

More than 500 people at three Woodingford Lodge locations in Oxford County have been treated for the skin infestation, which is caused by microscopic mites burrowing into the skin.

“Everyone has been treated – residents and staff,” said director Corrie Fransen. That includes 300 staff members, some of whom work in multiple locations, and 228 residents.

She confirmed that seven per cent of residents – around 11 of the 160 people at the Woodstock home – had symptoms. But it wasn’t immediately obvious that scabies was behind the rashes.

“The end of July, beginning of August, looking back, there were symptoms. But diagnosis of scabies is very complex, especially in residents with compromised immune systems and skin irritations,” Fransen said.

An official diagnosis was made Sept. 1.

Scabies treatment involves lathering up the body with anti-parasitic ointment.

“From the neck down, the cream is applied. It stays on for 12 hours and then the residents are bathed,” said Randi Williams, a nurse at Woodingford Lodge.

It’s no easy feat, especially with hundreds of elderly residents.

“It’s a lot of work to launder all the bedsheets and the clothes a person was wearing. The recommendation is to (treat) everybody at the same time, so that can be very challenging, too,” said Elaine Reddick, supervisor of health protection with Oxford County Public Health.

Sometimes a second treatment is required. Williams said staff would continue to monitor residents for any symptoms.

It’s not likely that the Woodingford outbreak will spread, said Kim Staikos, manager of infection control at Woodstock Hospital – just steps away from the long-term care home.

“Scabies isn’t transmitted in the air, it’s a person-to-person contact, so the risk of transmission remains low,” Staikos said. Prolonged skin contact, like holding hands, is required for the mites to move from one person to the next.

The hospital receives word of community outbreaks as soon as they’re diagnosed, she added, so they can take proper precautions.

There’s also no sign of infestation in neighbouring counties, though a Hamilton hospital saw a large outbreak about a year ago.

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit hasn’t seen any cases, and the last outbreak in Perth County was ten years ago, according to the health unit.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit couldn’t confirm any recent infections, because the condition isn’t required to be reported.

Though public health units in many regions still keep tabs on outbreaks, scabies is considered more of a “health nuisance” – similar to bed bugs or headlice – rather than an infection like C. difficile that must be reported and tracked.

“It’s not like a respiratory infection…where we would see it passed throughout the community,” said Jaime Fletcher with the Elgin and St. Thomas Public Health Unit, which also reported zero scabies infections.

“Usually scabies will be quite self-limited within the facility.”

The good news is that though scabies is uncomfortable – Reddick points to intense itching – it usually doesn’t pose a significant public health concern.

“The real risk is before it’s identified,” she said. “When there’s a couple of rashes and nobody knows what it is, then there’s the risk of staff taking it home or residents taking it with them. Once it’s identified, the risk of spreading it to other places is really low.”

mstacey@postmedia.com

 

SCABIES

  • Caused by microscopic mites that burrow into the skin.
  • Symptoms include a pimple-like rash, extreme itching.
  • Treatment includes full-body application of a cream for 12 hours.
  • No long-term health affects.
  • Passed skin-to-skin; no airborne transmission. 

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