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Mich. prison to treat entire inmate population for scabies

An outbreak was declared after several suspected cases were identified at Parnall Correctional Facility

By Angie Jackson
Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — The entire prison population at Parnall Correctional Facility in Jackson will be treated for scabies after the Michigan Department of Corrections declared a facility-wide outbreak this week, a spokesman said.

Prison officials have ordered medication and plan to treat the 1,286 men housed at Parnall by early next week, department spokesman Chris Gautz said Friday.

Gautz said a scabies outbreak was declared for one housing unit on Jan. 22 after several suspected cases were identified. Scabies had spread to at least three more housing units by Thursday, when the department’s chief medical officer determined that the entire prison should be placed on outbreak status, he said.

The number of confirmed and suspected cases at the prison wasn’t immediately clear Friday evening.

Microscopic scabies mites burrow in the skin and lay eggs, causing an intense, itchy rash. Scabies is easily spread in crowded spaces where there is skin-to-skin contact among people. Infestation can also be spread from the sharing of items such as clothing, towels and bedding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A Parnall official told prisoners in an email that their clothing would be collected and washed. Most of their property will be placed in plastic bags, sealed and kept in a locker for an isolation period. Prisoners were told they could keep certain items that would require cleaning, such as religious items, televisions, radios and medication, according to the message shared with the Free Press.

Gautz said one case of scabies was diagnosed at the prison on Dec. 4. Skin scrapings for that prisoner came back negative, but staff considered it to be a case of scabies.

Roughly seven weeks later, on Jan. 21, several suspected cases were identified. Gautz said all prisoners in the housing unit that saw the first cases were treated on Tuesday.

A man incarcerated at Parnall told the Free Press that staff repeatedly dismissed prisoners’ complaints of scabies symptoms beginning in early December. He said men in the housing unit where the outbreak began were first told that their skin irritation was a routine rash. As more people reported symptoms, they were told the irritation was caused by water in the showers. Later, they were told it was caused by the laundry detergent, the prisoner said.

In an email, Gautz said that housing unit “has been dealing with a rash issue for the past few months.” In early December, it was thought that the rash was due to an environmental issue, such as the water, air, laundry or sanitation. Gautz said an environmental sanitation looked at several prisoners’ rashes on Dec. 9 and couldn’t determine the cause. An assessment turned up no environmental issues.

Gautz said health care staff evaluated and treated affected prisoners. In January, their rashes had not improved. The matter was elevated to the head of the department’s health care division on Jan. 15, prompting more evaluations.

Before December, Parnall had a scabies case in June and two suspected cases in March that put a housing unit on outbreak status, Gautz said.

In 2019, the department treated all of the prisoners at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility for scabies after more than 200 women complained of itchy and painful rashes that began more than a year earlier.