OHS Canada Magazine

Ontario hospital battling outbreak of scabies

February 18, 2014

Occupational Hygiene Health & Safety Health care Injury, Illness Prevention Occupational diseases/infectious diseases

(Canadian OH&S News) 

(Canadian OH&S News) 

A hospital in Oakville, Ont. has been fighting against a scabies outbreak that is believed to have begun in late January.

Halton Healthcare Services (HHS), which runs Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital (OTMH), announced on Feb. 7 that the hospital was battling the disease among its staff and patients. More than 30 employees and one patient contracted the disease from another patient in one of the hospital’s inpatient units.

The hospital has been treating the infected staff and family members who have had close personal contact with them, as well as additional staff who came into contact with the original patient. OTMH has also contacted two discharged patients who had shared a ward with the original patient within the previous six weeks and conducted a thorough review of anybody else who may have been infected, including 40 discharged patients at a “slight risk” of scabies, HHS said in a news release.

OTMH is monitoring its patients and staff for six weeks, the maximum length of the incubation period for scabies, a skin condition caused by a mite.


A source with the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said that the ministry was monitoring the situation. Also keeping tabs is the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL). Bruce Skeaff, the MOL’s media representative, said that that ministry’s role was merely “to ensure that the employer’s taking all suitable measures and procedures.”

According to Dr. Neil Rau, medical director of infection control and infectious diseases specialist at HHS, a shortage in Ontario of a lotion that renders scabies non-contagious has hindered OTMH’s efforts to contain the disease. Because of the shortage, the hospital has been putting higher priority on patients who have shown obvious symptoms.

“The preferred approach is to treat everyone affected at the same time,” Dr. Rau was quoted as saying in the news release. “All known symptomatic staff have been treated. Asymptomatic staff who may have been exposed have been contacted by our Occupational Health & Safety Department to provide preventative treatment. Inpatients on the unit where the patient is located are also receiving preventative treatment.”

Scabies is an infection in which microscopic mites called Sarcoptes scabiae burrow under the skin and lay eggs, which hatch young larvae that tunnel through the skin. It is known to result in extreme itchiness, rashes and sores; it usually spreads via skin-to-skin contact between people or through sharing towels or clothes.

Following the outbreak, HHS released a two-page information sheet that details the symptoms and treatments of the disease. The information sheet offers the following recommendations to those who contract scabies:

* Apply a scabicidal cream or lotion prescribed by a doctor to the whole body and wash it off after eight to 12 hours;

* Put clean clothes on after washing the lotion off;

* Wash all clothes, bedding and towels used over the previous three days in hot water;

* Other household members should also use the treatment, as should people who have had any intimate contact with the infected person over the previous six weeks, even if they’re not showing any symptoms; and

* Children and pregnant women must get medical advice for treatment.

“We are taking all the necessary steps to alert people and encourage those who think they have been exposed to seek appropriate follow-up,” Dr. Lau said.

OTMH’s last outbreak of scabies happened in 1990.


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