Three Pennypacker residents living on the same floor were diagnosed with scabies over the weekend, forcing dozens of freshmen to throw their wardrobes into the wash and begin cautionary treatment for the skin disease.
Students reporting rashes first came to University Health Services (UHS) early Saturday afternoon, and administrators notified students of the outbreak shortly thereafter.
Scabies, a highly contagious but treatable skin disease, is caused by mites that burrow under the skin and lay egg, spread through direct skin-to-skin contact between people or through clothes and bedding. The disease leaves a rash or tiny blisters or bumps on the skin, though symptoms may not appear for 4 to 6 weeks after exposure.
“At first I was really worried about getting it. I didn’t want to get some kind of disease,” said Zhen Zhang ’11, a Pennypacker resident.
As a precaution, students were told to wash bedding, towels, clothes, and shoes worn or used in the past seven days. Students were also instructed to tie any clothing or bedding that could not be washed in a plastic bag for 14 days to eliminate any mites and eggs.
Residents of Pennypacker, which does not have its own laundry facilities, lugged their bulging plastic bags of laundry to nearby Hurlbut and Greenough, venturing into the Yard after closer facilities filled up.
“I’m really, really frustrated,” said Jenny Ingersoll ’11, a Pennypacker resident, as she studied for her upcoming midterms while waiting for laundry in the Hurlbut basement.
“It’s just part of being in college—everyone in the dorm having to go through the same thing because of an outbreak,” Ingersoll said.
UHS officials offered tubes of Permethrin insecticide cream in the lobby of Pennypacker yesterday along with large plastic bags for laundry.
Each student was instructed to apply the cream to the entire body after bathing and to leave the cream on for 8 to 14 hours.
Faciilities and Maintenance Operations cleaned every room in the dormitory, vacuuming all carpets and furniture.
“Obviously we’re working on treating it aggressively,” said Anthony J. Pacillo, manager of freshman dormitories.
“I think overall we’re very glad we caught it early,” said Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman Robert P. Mitchell.
Even individuals not directly exposed to scabies risk infection from living in close quarters with those infected unless the entire building is cleaned.
“We’re more or less treating Pennypacker as one big household, one big family,” said Gregory A. Johnson, director of Stillman Infirmary and After Hours Urgent Care at UHS.
“You have to treat everyone at the same time,” Johnson added.
Amid the inconvenience of waiting for washing cycles to finish and the hassle of shouldering laundry up and down the street, some Pennypacker residents found humor in the situation.
“I just emailed the [WHRB] comp director telling him I might not be able to make it Sunday because I’m getting disinfected for scabies,” said Zhang.
Pennypacker resident Idriss P. Fofana ’11 said he was not scared of people with the disease.