Scabies case found in Schenectady public housing
Officials say tenants must help stop infestations
SCHENECTADY It’s been a hard spring for some residents of Schonowee Village, a group of municipal housing authority apartments downtown.
First came the cockroaches. Then scabies.
Some residents were moved out of their apartments briefly so pest control workers could launch a war against cockroaches. Now they have to guard against scabies.
Tenant Paul Kaczmarek was diagnosed Friday with scabies, a highly contagious infestation of mites that lay eggs on human skin. When they hatch, the mites cause intense itching. It can be quickly treated with antibiotics, but that didn’t make Kaczmarek feel any better.
He immediately quarantined himself.
“I don’t want to go inside any buildings. I don’t want to touch anybody,” he said. “First cockroaches and now this.”
There’s no actual need for a quarantine — patients who take antibiotics, as Kaczmarek is, are no longer contagious. But those who have been exposed to scabies do not show symptoms for four to six weeks. During the incubation period, scabies tends to spread rapidly, particularly in places such as public housing where many people live close together.
To the naked eye, scabies appears to be a rash. The Schenectady County Health Department said those who may have been exposed and have scabies symptoms should seek medical attention.
A state Department of Health fact sheet emphasized that, as well, saying, “The need for early diagnosis and treatment of infested individuals and contacts is extremely important.”
At the Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority, Executive Director Richard E. Homenick spent an hour researching scabies after getting word of the diagnosis Friday morning.
“It’s very treatable,” he said with relief.
That means this will be easier to deal with than the cockroaches, which are still a lingering problem. Bedbugs invade occasionally, too.
“Our biggest challenge is getting the tenants who are problematic to comply with our professional pest control company’s recommendations,” he said.
Some won’t report infestations for fear it makes them look bad. Authority newsletters now include a message in big letters urging tenants to call immediately if they see cockroaches or bedbugs.
But they also have to let pest control agents into their apartments, empty their cupboards for treatment, wash and bag clothing and take various other time-consuming steps. Some tenants refuse, Homenick said.
“Just last week I evicted a poor woman who had bedbugs and would do nothing,” he said.
The agency is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension, which trained all of the staff on how to fight pests. Staff members then held a training session for tenants in which they explained that a pest control company can’t do it alone.
“We want to fight this problem, and you are part of this fight,” Homenick said.
With cockroaches, much depends on the tenants. While pest control companies can kill many cockroaches and drive the rest away, they’ll come back in search of crumbs and grease. Tenants are asked to keep their kitchens clean and their food in closed containers.
But as Kaczmarek discovered, even that isn’t enough. He says he scrupulously cleaned his entire apartment, even taking off baseboards and cleaning above ceiling tiles. Still, a few cockroaches crawled in, apparently from other apartments or garbage chutes. In response to complaints from him and other residents, the authority is continuing to spray pesticides.
Homenick is also trying to track down exterior sources of infestations. With cockroaches, the source may never be determined, but he’s tracked one bedbug back to a rental furniture company. He complained immediately, asking every rental company to inspect their furniture for contamination and treat it.
“Our tenants rely on these companies. They should have accountability,” he said.