Border Patrol agents at risk of scabies exposure

The highly contagious skin infection was detected among immigrants captured by agents in McAllen, TX

scabies and the border patrol 053014

EL PASO, Texas - There are concerns of a highly infectious disease making its way to the borderland.

Several Border Patrol agents contacted ABC-7, saying some undocumented immigrants have been diagnosed with scabies.

Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by a reaction to a small mite that can burrow in the skin.

Symptoms can take from two to six weeks to appear.

The agents told ABC-7 the infection was detected among immigrants captured by the Border Patrol in McAllen -- a fact confirmed by Border Patrol officials in El Paso.
"We've had two agents possibly exposed. But no confirmed reports of agents being diagnosed with scabies," said Stu Harris, vice president of the Border Patrol union in El Paso.

"No one wants to contract this disease and possibly take it home to their families."
Overcrowding in South Texas immigration holding facilities is prompting the Border Patrol to fly immigrants to El Paso for processing.

ABC-7 reported on the first flight from South Texas on May 8.

Harris said the threat of exposure will increase because the level of apprehensions is on the rise.

"It's coming to a town near you," Harris said. "These people are getting bused all over the country. They are literally traveling throughout the U.S."

"Every single one of those individuals is screened for any type of communicable disease, whether it's scabies or tuberculosis," said Border Patrol acting Assistant Chief Ramiro Cordero.

Cordero said the agents are trained in how to handle potential medical threats, from recognizing signs of illness to preventing exposure by carrying and wearing gloves and masks, if necessary.

"There is not one single individual that will go into a Border Patrol facility that has been deemed not fit to be at that facility," Cordero said.

But when ABC-7 asked him if that meant agents at the detention facility would not come into contact with scabies, he replied, "They're not going to come in contact with someone who tested positive for anything. If they don't test positive, you don't know. You take all the necessary precautions, but ultimately yes, you don't know."

Harris said the union and the agency are working together to inform agents of how to reduce skin-to-skin contact by following proper procedure during processing.

"It's not a situation anyone wants to be in," Harris said.
"But at the end of the day, these people have to be processed. And the only thing we can do is take as many preventive measures as possible."

Meanwhile, officials said El Paso's holding facilities are being decontaminated to minimize any exposure to other immigrants and agents.

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