Surprisingly, scabies, is one of the most talked about communicable parasites on the internet. The quantity of postings from people who have caught scabies from hotel bedding surprised me. I always thought scabies was a parasite associated with very poor countries. I did not realize that there are an estimated 300 million cases of scabies worldwide with one million of them occurring in the United States.
Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis is the species of itch mite that can infest a human. The adult female mite will burrow into the upper layer of skin and deposit eggs. The resulting infestation can become very itchy and present with a ” scabies rash ” Symptoms may not appear until 2-6 weeks after initial exposure but more quickly if the person has been infested before. An infested person can transmit scabies even if they show no symptoms.
According to the CDC ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ), “Scabies usually is passed by direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact with an infested person. However, a person with crusted (Norwegian) scabies can spread the infestation by brief skin-to-skin contact or by exposure to bedding, clothing, or even furniture that he/she has used.”
Via, the traveler’s companion, reports a woman, E. Sturges, contracted scabies from the bedding in a well-known motel chain. She was reimbursed for her room, but not for her medical bills. Just Google ” scabies from hotel ” and literally hundreds of hits emerge. While human to human contact is the most prevalent mode of transmission, bedding seems to be overlooked and under diagnosed.
Once infested, scabies is treatable with prescription lotions and creams called scabicides. Not only should the infested person be properly treated, but, according to the CDC ” bedding, clothing, and towels used by infested persons or their household, sexual, and close contacts anytime during the three days before treatment should be decontaminated by washing in hot water and drying in a hot dryer, by dry-cleaning, or by sealing in a plastic bag for at least 72 hours. Scabies mites generally do not survive more than 2 to 3 days away from human skin.”
Because scabies mites and eggs can live away from human skin for 2 to 3 days, transmission from bedding is highly possible. If the hotel guest who stayed in your room before you had scabies, well unless that bed had been properly cleaned and changed, there is a very good chance you could catch scabies, and it happens, more often than you think. Most scabies cases are probably not even reported because people who catch scabies for the first time usually only exhibit symptoms a few weeks after exposure. So if you stay in a hotel and catch scabies there, you go home, and a few weeks later become infested. Now you have transmitted scabies to your home and family, and you don’t have a clue or proof of where you caught it.
How can you protect yourself and your family from acquiring scabies ? Scabies are tiny, females range from 0.25mm – 0.45mm in size and males can be half that size, so they are almost impossible to see. Their eggs are even smaller. Because you can’t really inspect a bed for scabies, your best line of defense is still inspection and barrier protection.” Inspection” as in inspect the bedding to make sure the linens are fresh and have been changed. If you are leery about your bedding and don’t believe the sheets are clean, either ask for a new room or find another hotel.
A barrier travel sheet with a small pore size is your best protection, even after inspection. Companies like Allersac produce and sell cotton travel sheets for the express purpose of creating a physical barrier to scabies, lice and bedbugs, while providing a comfortable, breathable envelope to sleep in. Remember, if you purchase a travel sheet, it must be washable in hot water and dry-able in hot air, otherwise you won’t be able to properly sanitize the travel sheet between using.
Ease of transportation, the opening of borders, and inexpensive travel deals have served to make the world a smaller place than it was 20 years ago. All too often, unclean bedding, is experienced worldwide, by hotel guests. It’s not just dirty or gross, there are parasites like scabies, lice and bedbugs to be caught. Simple precautions and products can make your travels safer and healthier.