Don’t Let Your Kids Pick Up This Back-to-School Illness

The disease is highly contagious but also highly treatable — here's what parents need to know

Right about now, you’re getting the kids ready for going back to school. You’re shopping for school supplies, meeting new teachers, and getting your kids updated on important shots.

While you may be already considering the flu and cold season by stocking up on the essentials, there is another health concern to watch out for in the crowded school hallways. Though you don’t always hear much about it, scabies can spread easily in children at school.

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In one recent case at Winchester Hospital, a patient was admitted for treatment without the staff realizing that he had an active infection. Once he was in the hospital, over 20 staff members began showing signs of scabies and required treatment right away to prevent it from spreading.

According to Winchester Hospital’s statement in the Boston Globe, “Scabies is highly contagious, but also highly treatable.”

Contagious is an understatement when you’re looking at the numbers. The World Health Organization reveals that scabies affects over 100 million people worldwide. People from all races and social classes can get the infection, but it has a high prevalence in children and older adults living in crowded or poor conditions.

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Because scabies does happen more often in crowded areas and transfers easily through skin contact, schools offer the perfect opportunity for this infection. Learn to recognize scabies and voice your concerns if you suspect that a child in school is infected.

What is scabies? Scabies is an infection that occurs because of a human mite called the Sarcoptes scabiei. This tiny mite burrows into the skin, producing an intensely itchy rash. The mites then live in the skin and lay eggs, causing the infection to spread.

As people touch and interact with other humans, the person infected can easily spread it to the people surrounding him. In school, children often stand close together in hallways, and younger classes may even hold hands as they walk in line.

To deepen the problem, people with the infection may not know about a problem for up to six weeks since the body takes time to react to a new infestation. Once they do show symptoms, the person may then scratch the area, allowing bacteria to settle in and potentially spreading the mites to other parts of the body.

Scabies often occurs around the wrist and forearm, in between the fingers, on the bottom of the feet, around the ankles, and sometimes on the scalp. The infection can also spread to the genitals in many cases.

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In rare instances, a person may get crusted scabies, where the rash crusts over due to an overabundance of the mites living in the skin. If this severe case is not treated immediately, it can lead to complications such as sepsis and kidney damage. Crusted scabies is also even more contagious than its common counterpart because the mites can live within the crust for several days without human contact.

Treating scabies in children. If your child’s school does have an outbreak, you should get professional treatment right away. You should not try to self-treat this condition.

Again, many people won’t notice any symptoms for several weeks. If your child has the infection unknowingly, he can cause further problems to family and friends during that time frame.

Once you seek medical treatment, a dermatologist will often prescribe a topical medicine with specific instructions. If a young child is infected, there are options for children as young as one month old.

For a severe case of scabies, the doctor may prescribe a strong oral medicine. In either instance, he may also recommend taking an antibiotic for bacterial infection and an antihistamine or another medicine to control the itching.

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How to prevent. Since a scabies infection can occur in even neat, clean people, you likely won’t see the risk coming your way. However, if a friend or family member is getting treated for scabies, you should consider treatment as well. To prevent further spreading, you should wash and dry all linens, towels, clothes, and washcloths that you’ve had contact with recently.

If needed, dry-clean items that cannot be washed or seal them in a plastic bag for one week. Vacuum the entire house and throw away the vacuum bag. You do not need to treat pets, since scabies is a human mite.

Scabies is a common infection globally, so you should not feel discouraged if you’re dealing with this problem. However, to avoid them, watch for the common itchy rash in children at school. If you see something of concern, alert a school official and get proper treatment for your child if necessary.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel’s senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. This Fox News article is used by permission; it first appeared on 

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(photo credit, article image: University of the Fraser Valley, Flickr)

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