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Skin infections not scabies, says NWT's lead doctor
Lack of running water, overcrowded housing to blame for infections, according to chief medical officer

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Monday, January 28, 2013

The Northwest Territory's chief medical health officer says a recent outbreak of skin infections in Colville Lake is not scabies.

"It's not an outbreak of scabies from what we've seen," Dr. Andre Corriveau told News/North on Jan. 25. "We're not dealing with a scabies outbreak right now."

Corriveau said while there could be isolated cases of scabies in the community, it was unclear exactly what was causing such large-scale skin infections.

The health department sent a doctor and a home care nurse into the community last week to assist residents.

The home care nurse will stay in the community until the end of March, Corriveau said.

In addition to taking antibiotics, if necessary, proper hygiene and limited contact between infected people is vitally important to preventing the spread of skin infections, Corriveau said.

While he didn't have exact numbers, Corriveau said cases seem to be decreasing lately.

Nonetheless, he warned that living conditions in Colville Lake are ideal for the spread of skin and other infections, including ones resistant to antibiotics as well as tuberculosis.

Changing bed sheets and clothing daily and regular bathing are encouraged.

But this can be extremely difficult in a tiny community with overcrowded housing conditions and a lack of indoor plumbing, he added.

"In a community like Colville Lake, where many of the houses still don't have running water and there is overcrowding, those skin infections can spread from one person to the next much easier than somewhere else," he said.

Poverty is another issue, Corriveau said. Some families may not have the means to have extra sets of bed sheets or extra clothing for children and other family members.

Skin infections are not uncommon in the small community of close to 150 people.

Colville Lake experienced a wave of infections last summer, including scabies, Corriveau said.

Colville Lake School, which had indoor plumbing installed last fall, is also being instructed on how to reduce instances of skin infections.

Principal Marie LaForme said the school is being cleaned and disinfected every day and students use their own pens, pencils and pencil cases to limit contact.

However, LaForme said school staff have noticed a drop in attendance since before Christmas.

"It was really noticeable in the new year, but there were issues before then," she said.

The school usually has between 45 and 50 students, but for a few days only 20 per cent of students attended class.

As of Jan. 24, about half of the students were back in the classroom, LaForme said.

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