Student houses infested with ‘communal’ parasite: scabies

There is a mass outbreak of scabies among students in Groningen. Dozens of student houses have been affected by the outbreak, pharmacies can hardly supply creams against the itching fast enough. ‘Entire student houses are itchy.’

GP practice Studentarts treats scabies throughout the year, but the number has increased significantly over the past few weeks, according to GP Maarten Goedhart. Pharmacies have also noticed a change. ‘We’re selling more cream than usual’, says the Boterdiep pharmacy. ‘Sometimes the whole house shows up together, and sometimes one person buys eight tubes.’

No one has studied the reason behind the peak in scabies infestations yet, but Goedhart thinks it might be because of the lockdown and students cosying up together. ‘During a lockdown, students get physically close together, chilling under a blanket and watching Netflix with all twelve roommates. They also share clothes, gloves, scarves, and beds. Scabies thrives on that kind of communal spirit.’

Almost tripled

Scabies has also been on the rise in other Dutch cities over the past few years. Nivel, the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research, has seen the number of infestations almost triple. In 2014, one in a hundred people were infected with scabies. In 2019, that had risen to 2.1 and by 2021, it was 2.6 people in a hundred.

Scabies is caused by a bug that burrows into the epidermis to lay eggs. This mite is invisible to the naked eye, but the burrows it digs can be seen. The mite is more active under warm conditions, such as when you’re lying in bed, which is when the itching is at its worst. The residue left behind by the mites can also cause an allergic reaction, leading to a rash.

Scabies is fairly easy to treat, although it does take a while. It involves applying permethrin cream to your entire body once or twice and it only works when everyone in the house gets treated. Also, all the bed linens and clothes need to be washed. But even after all that, the itching can persist for one or two more months.



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