45 firefighters in 18 houses: How Prince George’s Co. is fighting scabies

Months after the Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department’s first reported case, 45 firefighters have scabies. And though there have been no new outbreaks, the entire department has been checked out by doctors.

The number comes from the Prince George’s County Health Department. The county has a total of 2,200 career firefighters.

County Fire and EMS spokesman Mark Brady said once the department goes two weeks without a new case, the infestation will be behind them. There have been no new cases in nine days, he said Tuesday.

Health department spokesman George Lettis and fire department spokesman Mike Yourishin said in a statement that the number of cases “plateaued around Sept. 16, shortly after we notified the public and informed them of treatment options.”

“The risk to the public is very low,” they said, although they added, “It wouldn’t be unusual to see a few more cases.”

Scabies is caused by mites that burrow into the skin and produce a rash that spreads easily from person to person.

Brady said the department is “keeping our fingers crossed, and doing the very best we can in limiting the amount of people affected. There are a lot of policies and procedures that have changed temporarily while we combat this infestation.”

That includes scheduling policies: 18 of the department’s 45 firehouses are contaminated, which doesn’t surprise Brady, given the close quarters in which firefighters work and live.

“So it’s very realistic that firefighters that worked at one station that was affected went to work overtime or swap at another station, and inadvertently affected that other station,” Brady said.

Since the first case was reported in August, Brady said, every firefighter has seen a doctor to be checked out, and each house has gone through a thorough cleaning.

“Eighteen stations are affected. They have been thoroughly cleaned: the bunk rooms, the rec areas, all the furniture — and that also includes their gear, their protective gear that they wear as they fight fires, as well as the apparatus that they use at those stations. It’s a rather detailed process to clean and disinfect those areas where firefighters work,” Brady said.

After work, Brady said, the firefighters have to worry about bringing the infestation to their homes and families.

He said every firefighter who had a confirmed case has gotten the prescription skin cream to rid themselves of the mites.

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