Column Sjoukje Osinga: Scabies

Three sons with scabies. That’s asking for trouble.

‘I’ve got scabies,’ my son announced on the family WhatsApp group at the beginning of April. Scabies? Yup. His whole house was affected and now he had it too. ‘What a coincidence, someone in my house has scabies too,’ responded my other son. ‘Mine too,’ piped up the third. All three of them are at university in Utrecht and living in student houses.

It took me a while to get over this news. I had read in the newspaper that scabies is a growing problem in university cities: Utrecht, Nijmegen, Groningen, Leiden. It will be no different in Wageningen. My sons were not too bothered about it, though. You just draw up a plan of action, and you get rid of it. Everyone in the house has to rub cream into their skin from head to toe, put all their bedding and clothes in a hot wash, and bag up anything that can’t be washed in closed bin bags and leave it for several days. ‘I’m having a scabies-creaming party with my housemates tonight,’ texted the youngest. Ah yes, of course! Rubbing cream into each other’s backs over a drink or two, might as well make a party of it.

I’m having a scabies-creaming party with my housemates tonight,’ texted the youngest

My husband and I were not too scared we’d catch it. You get it from at least 15 minutes of skin-to-skin contact and we are not that touchy-feely in our family. But six weeks later, we had it too. The infection had happened earlier, apparently – via the sofa maybe? The incubation period is about six weeks and it also takes a while before you realize that you are itching like mad. But hey, we would tackle this problem.

We applied cream and followed all the hygiene instructions to the letter: we did all the right things. But there was no improvement. The itching was maddening, especially at night – and it actually got worse after treatment. We gradually developed a great admiration for students. It took three courses of cream treatment, two courses of pills, five rounds of disinfecting the house and another two months of itching before we dared to believe it was all over.

Scabies is a nasty and an urgent problem and is not just ‘prevalent among students’. It’s strange that I don’t know any other non-students who have scabies, although there probably are more people like us. Shame is not going to help us, and that is why I am ‘coming out’. Listen up and spread the news! Scabies itches!

Sjoukje Osinga (54) is a university lecturer in Information Technology. She sings alto in the Wageningen chamber choir Musica Vocale, has three sons at university and enjoys bird-watching in the Binnenveldse Hooilanden with her husband.  

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