It is now very rare but at the lower end of the scale, some hotels will cut corners in the matter of laundering bedding, in which case you run the risk of picking up scabies. This is an extremely contagious parasitic infestation caused by a microscopic mite; the initial symptoms, appearing three to seven days after exposure, are small raised bumps behind the ankles and on the back of the hand. Very quickly the colonies spread to the forearms, between the thighs and around the waist in particular, announcing themselves with redness and intense, fiery itching which worsens after dark, often preventing sleep. The bigger ‘bites’ scab over, bleeding profusely if scraped off.

In Greece, the inexpensive but unfortu­nately not very effective over-the-counter remedy is Benzogal lotion, with benzoyl benzoate the active ingredient; it is also highly irritating to the skin, causing rashes and welts difficult to distinguish from the actual condition. Much better if you can get them (in the UK) Derbac or Derbac-M lotion, laced respectively with the pesticides carbaryl or malathion, or (in North America) Kwell, which contains the powerful pesti­cide lindane. This last product is the best but has been banned in much of the world.

Treatment with any of these lotions con­sists of a full-body application, which is left on in a thin film for 24 hours before bathing. A second application is suggested a few days later. The mites and their eggs should in theory be killed by then, but the itching will not go away completely for about 10 days – and often many mites survive. They have lately become resistant to most available lotion formulas, so that stubborn cases (meaning almost all infestations) eventually require intensive treatment, specifically a week of daily lotion applications. Formulas may have to be blended to get rid of all resistant individuals; sunlight is helpful too, though ultraviolet radiation by itself will only slow the spread of the condition, not stop it entirely. Scabies has reached epi demic proportions in much of northern Europe, causing major headaches for health officials, and tourism has spread it quickly to the Mediterranean.

Equally important is the handling of all clothing and bedding worn or slept on during the infestation. These must be washed in hot water, with hands retreated immediately afterward; items that can’t be laundered, like coats and mattresses, must be dry-cleaned and ironed with a hot iron (though you’ll surely have long since left the guilty hotel).

The same products listed are also used to treat body, head or pubic lice, which you are much less likely to pick up. After application of the lotion to the afflicted area you may want to comb the nits (empty louse-egg shells) out of the hairs in question.

 

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