The Brussels public transport authority Stib has admitted that nine cases of scabies have been discovered among staff at the transport depot in Haren in the north of Brussels. The Stib says the outbreak presents “a minimal risk to public health”.
Scabies is a skin infestation caused by a mite, and is characterised by a skin rash and severe itching. The disease is contagious, but when infected for the first time, a person may only suffer symptoms two to six weeks later. During the intervening time, they could be passing the disease unwittingly on to others.
Scabies, an allergy caused by the scabies mite burrowing into the patient’s skin to lay its eggs, occurs worldwide, and requires prolonged contact such as during sexual relations or among people living together. It is not yet known how the employees of the Stib came to be infected in numbers, but the families of those concerned will be treated with the available remedies until the infection vector is found. Other members of the staff at Haren will also be monitored to see if further cases arise.
Permethrin, the most common and reliable treatment, is a lotion which is applied to the entire skin surface, although the symptoms of scabies are usually limited to one spot, such as hands or arm, waistline or feet, back or genitals. Sheets and bedclothes of anyone infected must be washed in hot water (60 degrees or over) and dried in a hot dryer
The Stib carried out a de-infestation of the entire depot and the vehicles who use it on 27 and 28 October, a spokesperson said, and intend to repeat the operation after two weeks and again a month from now.
The employees affected are undergoing treatment; anyone who has been in contact and thinks they may have become infested should seem medical advice. Passengers, however, are at “minimal risk” of infection, given the nature of contact with drivers, ticket inspectors and other Stib staff.