Hopkins tracking spread of scabies Physicians expand investigation into infection outbreaks

September 23, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A physician who will investigate a scabies outbreak that temporarily closed a Johns Hopkins AIDS clinic said yesterday that she will take "a blanket approach" to her probe, possibly treating every patient seen at the clinic since June.

Dr. Trish M. Perl, Johns Hopkins Hospital epidemiologist, said she and as many as six nurses will begin combing patient lists that go back three months to determine how the infection spread through an outpatient acquired immune deficiency syndrome clinic in June and last week and how many people were infected.

She said patients will be asked whether they have developed symptoms of scabies, a skin infection spread by a mite and characterized by severe itching and a red, bumpy rash.

"We just might err on the side of caution and treat everyone treated at the clinic since June," Perl said.

Both outbreaks were reported at the same ward of the Hopkins AIDS outpatient clinic.

Last week's outbreak of Norwegian scabies, a severe, highly contagious form of the infection, had spread to at least 14 workers by Friday and perhaps as many as 24, Perl said. Hospital officials barred visitors to the ward for eight hours Friday.

The outpatient clinic is scheduled to reopen this morning, hospital officials said.

Perl said that scabies would not be fatal to an AIDS patient, but that it could lead to more serious skin infections and other health problems. For people in good health, scabies can be treated with an ointment that usually makes it disappear in about 48 hours, she said.

"It can just be unbelievably irritating," she said.

City and state health officials said yesterday that they have no evidence scabies is on the rise and that it poses no serious health risks.

"It would be way down on our list of health problems in Maryland," said Jeannette Duerr, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Dr. Peter Beilenson, Baltimore city health commissioner, said that scabies is as common as head lice among schoolchildren.

He said that unlike more serious ailments such as tuberculosis, state laws do not require physicians to report cases of scabies to city and state health officials.

"There are probably tons of cases all over the place. It's very common, and it's no big deal," he said.

He also said that it is highly unlikely that an outbreak of a half-dozen cases of scabies, reported to city officials last week by residents at Murphy Homes public housing development, would have been related to the outbreak at the Hopkins clinic.

"I'd just be very shocked if it was," he said.

For more information, AIDS clinic patients may call a 24-hour telephone number: 955-1725.

Pub Date: 9/23/96

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