Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by skin infestation by a tiny burrowing mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. These microscopic mites can live on your skin for months unless treated.

It should be noted this is not an infection but rather an infestation. It is widespread, affecting persons of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Scabies spreads quickly in crowded places where individuals come into contact with each other frequently, such as hospitals, institutions, child-care facilities and nursing homes.

Scabies signs and symptoms

Scabies symptoms include the following:

  • Itching covers the majority of the body and becomes particularly bad at night
  • Pimple-like irritations, burrows or a skin rash appearing in the webbing between the fingers, skin folds on the wrist, elbow or knee, the penis, the breast or the shoulder blades (in most cases, the scalp is unaffected)
  • Body sores or lesions caused by scratching — these can lead to bacterial infection

Contracting Scabies — Frequently Asked Questions

How would I get Scabies?

Scabies is spread through direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact with a scabies-infested person. Contact must be maintained for a long time (a quick handshake or hug will usually not spread infestation). Sexual partners and household members are easily infected with the infection. Sharing clothing, towels and beds can also lead to an infestation.

Who is most vulnerable to a serious infestation?

People with low immune systems and the elderly can contract Norwegian or crusted scabies, a more severe form.

What is the lifespan of mites that cause scabies?

Mites do not live for more than 48-72 hours once they have left the human body. An adult female mite can live for up to a month when living on a person.

Is it possible that my pet infected me with scabies?

No. A separate type of scabies mite infects dogs and cats. If your pet has scabies (also known as mange) and comes into close contact with you, the mite can penetrate your skin, causing itching and irritation. The mite, on the other hand, dies after a few days and does not reproduce. The mites may make you itchy for a few days, but you don't need to take any specific medication to get rid of them. Mites might continue to burrow into your skin and produce symptoms until your pet is effectively treated.

When will symptoms appear following an infestation?

Symptoms may take 4-6 weeks to appear in someone who has never been infected with scabies. Symptoms of scabies occur within a few days in a person who has had the disease. An infestation does not make you immune.

How can you know if you have scabies?

The most common method of diagnosis is to examine the burrows or rash. To confirm the diagnosis, a skin scrape may be done to look for mites, eggs or mite feces. If a skin scrape or biopsy is performed and the results are negative, you may still be infected. An afflicted person usually has less than 10 mites on his or her entire body, making it easy to miss an infestation.

Is it possible to treat scabies?

Yes. Scabies can be treated with a variety of medications. Always follow your doctor's instructions or the instructions on the package insert. All infested person's clothes, bedding and towels should be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer two days before treatment.

A second application of the same lotion to the body may be required.

Treatment for Scabies

Anyone diagnosed with scabies, as well as their sexual partners and those who have had close, extended contact with the infested person, should be treated. To avoid reinfestation, if your doctor may advise that family members be treated at the same time.

When will I start to feel better following treatment?

Itching can last for up to two weeks and does not necessarily indicate that you are still infested. If the itching is severe, your doctor may prescribe more medication to relieve it. If no new burrows or rashes emerge 24 to 48 hours following effective therapy, you know the drug was effective.

Even if all of the mites have been destroyed, the rash may persist. This could be caused by dermatitis or inflammation of the skin's layers. A little topical steroid may be advised in these circumstances.

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