Saint John is dealing with an outbreak of scabies after the contagious skin infection has shown up in at least three area high schools in recent weeks.

At least seven teenagers have been infected — four at Harbour View High School, two at St. Malachy's Memorial High School and one at Simonds High School — by the skin infection.

Bob Johnson, the acting director of education in School District 8, said there could be more students who have caught the contagious infection but the schools have not been notified.

"Sometimes parents are calling, 'Look, Johnny's out sick today. He'll be in in a couple of days.' You know, and they don't necessarily specify why," Johnson said.

The province's public health office does not keep track of how many people who have been infected by scabies.

Although scabies is contagious, it's not a reportable disease.

Scabies is an infection caused by tiny parasites, called mites, that burrow under the skin and lay eggs.

Dr. Michael Simon said the infection is usually spread by skin-to-skin contact, but can also be spread by items, such as clothing and bedding.

People who have become infected by scabies may have symptoms that include itchiness and a rash that can take several weeks to appear.

"People associate it with being unclean, or unhygienic. In our view from family practice, it's simply another infection that we can treat quite successfully," Simon said.

The physician said it can take several weeks before a person realizes they have the infection.

"It can be there for a while before it really comes to the fore. If you have just a little bit of it and you sort of write it off and don't pay attention, you may not notice it so much," Simon said.

"But basically, if you don't clear it on your own, it will get worse and you will be having that much more itchy, red, raised skin."

Scabies can be treated with a lotion.

People can guard against re-infection by washing clothing and linens in hot water.