The scabies outbreak at the Capital District Health Authority is just beginning, according to a union president, but the health minister says it's almost done.
Joan Jessome, the president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said about 20 of the nurses she represents have reported getting scabies.
"We are very concerned that number is going to grow because of the incubation period and that it's so highly contagious," she said Monday.
"The nurses are saying the same thing: we've just seen the tip of the iceberg."
The outbreak started last week with a patient in the intensive care unit at the Halifax Infirmary of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.
"We don't know yet how big this is. People are very concerned about having it and they don't want to talk publicly about it," Jessome said. "It's not over yet."
Scabies is a very contagious but treatable skin disease. A very small bug (mite) burrows into the skin, causing a very itchy rash. Scabies mites live in human skin. They spread from person to person through direct contact or from clothing and bedding.
The shortage of nurses caused a delay in some surgeries last week.
'Well under control'
But Leo Glavine, the minister for health and wellness, struck a different tone.
"I would say it's an issue now that's well under control," he said. "Hopefully this will come to an end this week."
He said the ICU was still short on nurses Monday, but was getting closer to normal levels.
He confirmed one patient has scabies and at least one nurse, with many others reporting scabies.
The patient is in isolation at the hospital.
Everton McLean, spokesman for Capital Health, said 30 staff, mostly registered nurses, have stayed home with self-reported cases of scabies since the outbreak began.
He said it's treated with a cream and clears in about 24 hours. He didn't know how many staff were off Monday, but they have enough that all scheduled cardiac surgeries were done.