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Report: Elderly woman 'eaten alive' by scabies in nursing home

LAFAYETTE, GA (WCMH) - LAFAYETTE, GA (WCMH) – The family of a Georgia woman is suing a nursing home after they say the was ‘eaten alive’ by a scabies infection over several months or possibly years.

Rebecca Zeni, 93, died at a Georgia nursing home in 2015, WXIA reports. According to an autopsy report, the cause of death was listed as “septicemia due to crusted scabies.”

According to the CDC, scabies is a skin infection by the human itch mite. The scabies mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin and lays its eggs.

The CDC says institutions such as nursing homes and extended-care facilities are often sites of outbreaks.

Crusted scabies is a severe form of scabies that can occur in people who are immunocompromised, elderly, disabled or debilitated. It requires aggressive medical treatment.

Forensic pathologist and former Georgia Bureau of Investigation chief medical examiner Dr. Kris Sperry was asked by WXIA to review Zeni’s autopsy report. He has conducted more than 6,000 autopsies in his career and supervised more than 80,000 more.

“This is one of the most horrendous things I’ve ever seen in my career as a forensic pathologist,” said Sperry.

He estimates hundreds of millions of mites were living inside Zeni at the time of her death. He says he would consider calling her case a homicide by neglect.

Sperry calls ‘eaten alive’ a good characterization of what happened to Zeni.

However, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security calls headlines tells Live Science that such headlines are hyperbolic.

"It's not that the scabies mites themselves are killing" a person, Adalja said.

Instead, the mites cause a disruption to the skin that leaves the body unprotected from infections microorganisms.

“All the bacteria that live on the skin have a much easier road to get into your bloodstream," Adalja said.

Zeni’s family has filed a lawsuit against the operator of the nursing home, PruittHealth.


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