Scabies outbreak reported at local nursing home

Posted at 6:56 AM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 21:54:03-04

Her arms and back are covered with small, reddish bumps. She tries to resist the urge to scratch them, but it's an uphill battle -- she has scabies, and she said the tiny mites are spreading through her body.

"It's like you want to tear your skin apart when it is itching and it itches like hell," said the health care worker, who asked Team 10 to protect her identity.

She contacted Team 10 nearly a week after she began feeling the itch. Her arms, back and other parts of her body were covered with the rash caused by scabies mites.

Female mites bore into people's skin, laying eggs beneath the surface. The rash spreads as more mites are hatched.

Scabies are highly contagious through skin-to-skin contact.

The health care worker agreed to meet Team 10 at the place she called her "new home," the Chula Vista marina's park area. She told Team 10 she spends her days there alone, trying to stay as far away from her family and other people as possible.

She and Team 10 Investigator Allison Ash did not shake hands.

She told Team 10 several patients at the Victoria Post Acute Care Center were suffering.

"They're laying there, they can't move. So all they have to do is scratch and they keep calling the nurses and they just ask them to scratch here and there," the woman said.

She also claimed the patients with scabies were not isolated from other patients, some even shared a room.

It wasn't until weeks after the outbreak began that she claims those patients were put in isolation. Even then, she said many of the nursing staff weren't told they were dealing with scabies. At least five healthcare workers became infected.

Team 10 went to the nursing home on South Anza Street and met with its executive director, Ed Dove, and the center's nursing director, Mary Lou Smith.

Smith, who has worked at the facility for 28 years, said, "I don't think it's a big deal."

Both she and her boss said they had taken ample precautions.

Smith said the first rash was noticed on a patient March 3. Although skin-scraping tests came back negative, she said the patient was treated.

Within a week, another patient and two staff members had it, Smith said.

Several days later, on March 10, she reported the outbreak to the San Diego County Department of Health.

Smith said six patients and six staff members were infected. All of them were in the same section of the nursing home. They were all treated with a cream that kills the scabies mites, their bed linens and everything in their rooms were sanitized with bleach.

The employees were sent home to recover, and some have since returned to work.

On March 19, another patient was diagnosed with scabies. It was the day after inspectors from the Licensing Division of the California Department of Health launched an investigation into the outbreak and the nursing home's management of it.

Dove told Team 10 his management team has the outbreak "under control," adding, "There's no need for alarm."

Team 10 reached out to Dr. Wilma Wooten, the chief medical officer for San Diego County. She told Team 10 there were a total of 15 cases of scabies identified inside the Victoria Post Acute Care Center.

She also said the nursing home had a smaller outbreak in November, with two people infected.

In 2015, there were 10 scabies outbreaks reported in San Diego County long-term care facilities. Victoria Post Acute Care Center was one of them.

"It's not a public health threat because there's no disease that can be transmitted," said Wooten. "It really is a nuisance to the individual that is infected, so that's why it's very important when new residents come into long-term care facilities that they're checked," she added.

"The important thing is we're educating the staff, and I would imagine that the visitors as well as residents are also educated so that they can contain the situation and get in front of it and prevent the spread," Wooten also told Team 10.

Team 10 checked the track record for Victoria Post Acute Care Center on the website. In 2015, the facility had 13 health deficiencies, which is higher than the state average of 10.9. The national average is 6.9.

An inspection report from summer 2015 found that one of the deficiencies was that they "failed to have a program that investigates, controls and keeps infection from spreading."

In the report, it was noted that a state investigator observed food placed next to an open urinal on a table in one room. A visitor was also witnessed entering an isolation room without the proper protective clothing.

The whistleblower who reported the outbreak to Team 10 said she hopes things change.

"I hope the facility will do something about it. I hope that all those patients get help before it spreads, because this is very contagious," she said.

An hour before Team 10's story aired on 10News at 6 p.m., Dove issued this statement to Ash:

"In follow-up to our recent discussion, and on behalf of Victoria Post-Acute Care, we want to be clear that our response to the existing infection control issue was both timely and appropriate. Once we learned that there was even the possibility of a developing clinical issue, we immediately addressed the existing needs of the involved residents and developed an action plan to resolve the situation. We also promptly notified the appropriate State agencies, and have cooperated with their representatives through the course of their administrative reviews. At all times, we have acted swiftly and purposefully in our efforts to protect and promote the health, well-being and safety of our residents and our employees."

To find out more about scabies, check out these links from the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control.