Dr. Jo, my husband and I recently stayed in a very nice hotel and later heard rumors that someone had contracted scabies there a few months earlier. How can I know that a hotel is safe? –Concerned in Birmingham
Dr. Jo Herzog
Which hotels are safe? Unfortunately, this is not always directly related to how “nice” or “fine ” a hotel is. Poor hygiene and unfortunate situations can happen anywhere. I once had the embarrassing task of calling a very expensive hotel and telling them that their hot tub was full of infectious bacteria. This and other issues can happen anywhere, so it pays to be an informed consumer.
You specifically asked about scabies. Although studies have been done about transmission of fungal infections on hotel carpets (keep your socks on), I am not aware of any such studies on transmission of scabies. If you understand the mite, then you will know how to avoid infestation.
Scabies are most commonly transmitted by CLOSE person to person contact. School kids typically get them from classmates or family members–folks they are with all day. Norwegian scabies are much more easily transmitted, but this is highly unusual in healthy people. This is seen in the elderly (nursing homes) and those with HIV or suppressed immune systems. Scabies can be transmitted by contact with underwear, linens or towels, but since scabies only live off of humans for couple of days, this is much less common. The mites do not hop or fly.
You are more likely to get scabies from who you sleep with in a hotel than from the linens. However, if the linens are not changed and laundered, transmission is certainly possible. Make sure that you are sleeping on clean, laundered sheets. I think that most hotels provide this. However, has the bedspread been washed? What about the big lazy chair in the corner?
When staying in any hotel, I would strip the bedspread off of the bed and not lie on it. Also, you might want to drape a clean sheet over the chair if spending time in it. A clean sheet can often be found in a closet or you can call room service for one. If you use a portacrib for a baby, bring your own sheet; it is difficult to know what the hotel uses to wash the sheets.
Scabies do not run in hotel chains. It is the luck of the draw and basically boils down to who was there before you. However, you can be a savvy consumer and be sure to take a few measures to decrease your chance of exposure.
PS-When you stay at a hotel do not keep your luggage on bed or floor. If there are bed bugs you will bring them home in suitcase. Set suitcase on suitcase stand or dresser/vanity. More on bed bugs in a future article.