Scabies Outbreak at Immigrant Detention Facility in Aurora

A microscopic view of the mite that causes scabies.
A microscopic view of the mite that causes scabies. Flickr
Twenty-five detainees at the immigrant detention facility in Aurora have been quarantined since December 4 following an outbreak of scabies. Of the 25, six have scabies, while another 19 have been exposed, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Alethea Smock.

"Each ICE detainee receives a medical examination upon arrival at the facility to check for potential signs of illness. However, ICE has no way of knowing what diseases or viruses a person may have been exposed to before they enter the facility," Smock wrote to Westword in a statement. The facility is run by private prison company GEO Group through a contract with ICE.

Scabies occurs when a human itch mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin, where it lives and lays its eggs. When a person is infected with scabies for the first time, they can be contagious, even while not displaying symptoms for weeks.

"The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash. The scabies mite usually is spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Prisons are often sites of scabies outbreaks," the CDC continued.

The detainees will remain under quarantine until they are treated with a topical ointment, which is arriving today, December 10.

"Once the treatment is administered, detainees will be removed from cohort," Smock wrote. Westword has asked ICE why it's taken nearly a week for the ointment to arrive; we'll add the agency's response if we receive one.

The facility has seen intermittent outbreaks of mumps and chicken pox throughout 2019, leading to multiple quarantines. In March, more than 350 detainees were quarantined because of possible exposure to mumps or chicken pox, or both.

Following the spate of outbreaks in the early months of the year, the GEO detention facility began working with the Tri-County Health Department. All detainees and staff members were offered the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, and the facility now reports infectious disease outbreaks to Tri-County Health.

However staff at the detention facility were not required to notify the department of the scabies outbreak.

“Scabies is not something that is reportable to the health department, so we are not involved,” Gary Sky, a spokesperson for the Tri-County Health Department, wrote to Westword in an email.

In July, Congressman Jason Crow announced that his staff would begin weekly inspections of the facility, which have continued to this day.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.