An outbreak of scabies closes two Westminster groups for the disabled

The ARC to reopen today

CHANGE to open Tuesday

January 13, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

An outbreak of scabies, a highly contagious but easily treatable skin disease caused by a parasite, has caused the temporary closing of two organizations in Westminster.

More than 100 clients and staff at The ARC of Carroll County and CHANGE, which provide services and job training for developmentally disabled adults, have had to be treated for the ailment. Few have had symptoms, the most common of which is a rash that itches intensely.

"We only had two confirmed cases but we decided to stop all at once and keep others from being infected," said Tim Atkinson, The ARC's executive director.

The ARC will reopen today after closing for one day. CHANGE will be closed until Tuesday, but Monday was a scheduled closing to observe the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Closings were not mandatory, although the Carroll County Health Department advised that clients and staff be treated immediately, even if they had no symptoms. The incubation period is six weeks. "None of us are happy about this, but we are all dealing with it," said Atkinson. "It is just unfortunate for all of us in the building."

The agencies chose to close, said Debbie Middleton, supervisor of communicable diseases for the county Health Department. Middleton gave the organizations state guidelines for dealing with the infection. The guidelines include excluding infected staff and clients from the building for 24 hours.

Scabies is caused by a mite that burrows into skin and causes a rash and itching. Anyone who had close contact with infected people should seek treatment, Middleton said. Itching can continue for up to two weeks after treatment.

At CHANGE, staff reported two confirmed cases but "a lot of psychological scratching."

Scabies is spread through close contact, such as hugging, or sharing a house or office, said Middleton. The mite can be killed with over-the-counter or prescription lotions and regular laundering and housecleaning, according to a fact sheet prepared by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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