Students in Groningen are embroiled in a war with invisible parasitic mites, with a substantial number of young people caught up in a cycle of contracting the infection, attempting a cure, and then facing a recurrence of that disease.
The number of scabies cases in the Groningen region has risen from 36 per 100,000 residents to 66, according to a poll by research institute Nivel.
General practitioner Maarten Goedhart of StudentArts warns that it is a highly contagious disease which can spread from one person to another through prolonged, direct physical contact. “It’s a social disease. You must have skin-to-skin contact for at least fifteen minutes. I know that there are student houses where twenty girls watch TV shows on the couch every night under the same blanket. That’s a wonderful route for the scabies mite to spread,” he says.
Scabies is caused by tiny mites that burrow into the upper layer of the skin where they lay eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the mites climb to the surface of the skin and spread to other parts of the body. They can live on a human body for up to two months and up to 36 hours in bedding and furniture.
It first shows up as a rash with bumps or burrows on the skin. The disease can be transmitted from objects but is most often transmitted by direct contact, something that is almost impossible to control in a densely-populated university environment.
Dr Goedhart says that scabies is easy to treat but the treatment is a really involved process. He stressed that all household members and their close contacts needed to follow the treatment plan at the same time, otherwise it would keep circulating. Application of insecticide cream should be done at prescribed times and should cover the entire body from chin to toe. “When two out of twenty residents apply topical treatment only sporadically, a few weeks later you’ll have an outbreak again,” Goedhart warns.
StudentArts doctors say scabies is a completely harmless infestation. It has no real implication to one’s health, other than the annoying itch. But if you notice the symptoms of the infection, you should see your GP who will prescribe an anti-scabies ointment.