What Is Scabies?
Scabies is a skin infestation caused by a very tiny mite known as
the Sarcoptes scabiei. These microscopic mites can live on your skin for
up to two months. They reproduce on the surface of your skin and then burrow
into your skin and lay eggs. This causes a very itchy, pimple-like rash to form
on the skin.
There are approximately 300
million cases of scabies in the world every year. It’s a highly contagious
condition that can easily be passed from one person to another through direct
skin contact. It may also be transmitted through infested clothing or bedding.
Although scabies can be bothersome, the infestation can usually
be treated effectively. Treatment often consists of medications that kill
scabies mites and their eggs. Since scabies is so contagious, doctors will
usually recommend treatment for an entire group of people who are in frequent
contact with a person who has scabies.
Are the Symptoms of Scabies?
After the initial exposure to scabies, it can take up to six
weeks for symptoms to appear. The symptoms usually develop more quickly in
people who’ve had scabies before.
The hallmark symptoms of scabies include a rash and intense
itching that gets worse at night. Continuous scratching of the infected area
can create sores that become infected. If this occurs, additional treatment
with antibiotics for the skin infection may be indicated.
In babies and toddlers, the most commonly infected areas are the:
- soles of the feet
Common sites for the rash in older children and adults include
- area between the fingers
The rash itself can consist of tiny blisters or pimple-like bumps.
The burrow tracks of the mite can also be seen on the skin. They may appear as
tiny raised or discolored lines.
Some people with scabies may develop another form of scabies
known as Norwegian scabies or crusted scabies. This is a more severe and
extremely contagious type of scabies. People with crusted scabies develop thick
crusts of skin that contain thousands of mites and eggs.
Crusted scabies doesn’t always cause an itchy rash. Instead, it
can lead to other symptoms, such as widespread crusts on the skin that are:
- crumble easily when touched
Crusted scabies usually develops in people with weakened immune
systems. This includes people with HIV or AIDS, people who use steroids or
other treatments such as certain medications for rheumatoid arthritis, or people
who are undergoing chemotherapy. The scabies mites can overpower the immune
system more easily and multiply at a quicker rate. It’s spread in the same way
as normal scabies.
Does Scabies Spread?
Scabies may be spread in the following ways:
- prolonged skin-to-skin contact, such as holding
- intimate personal contact, such as having sexual
- sharing clothing, bedding, or towels that have
been used by someone with a scabies infection
Since scabies is mostly transmitted through direct physical contact, the
infestation can easily be passed on to family members, friends, and sexual
partners. The infestation may also spread quickly in:
- nursing homes
- sports teams
Is Scabies Diagnosed?
Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose scabies simply by
performing a physical exam and inspecting the affected area of skin. In some
cases, your doctor may want to confirm the diagnosis by removing a mite from the
skin with a needle. If a mite can’t easily be found, your doctor will scrape
off a small section of skin to obtain a tissue sample. This sample will then be
examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of scabies mites or their eggs.
Is Scabies Treated?
Treatment for scabies usually involves getting rid of the
infestation with prescription ointments, creams, and lotions that can be applied
to the skin directly.
Your doctor will probably instruct you to apply the medicine at
night when the mites are most active. You may need to treat all of your skin
from the neck down. The medicine can be washed off the following morning. Make
sure you follow your doctor’s instructions very carefully.
According to the American
Academy of Dermatologists (AAD), some common medicines used to treat
- 5 percent permethrin cream
- 25 percent benzyl benzoate lotion
- 10 percent sulfur ointment
- 10 percent crotamiton cream
- 1 percent lindane lotion
Your doctor may also prescribe additional medications to help relieve
some of the bothersome symptoms associated with scabies. These include:
- antihistamines such as Benadryl or pramoxine
lotion to help control the itching
- antibiotics to kill any infections that develop
as a result of constantly scratching your skin
- steroid creams to relieve swelling and itching
More aggressive treatment may be needed for severe or widespread
scabies. An oral tablet called ivermectin
can be given to people who:
- don’t see an improvement in symptoms after
- have crusted scabies
- have scabies that covers most of the body
During the first week of treatment, it may seem as if the
symptoms are getting worse. However, after the first week, you’ll notice less
itching and you should be completely healed by the fourth week of treatment.
Skin that hasn’t healed within a month may still be infested with scabies mites.
Contact your doctor right away if you find that symptoms persist
after four weeks of treatment.
Can I Get Rid of Scabies?
Scabies mites can live for 48 to 72 hours after falling off your
body, so you need to take certain precautions to prevent re-infestation. Make
sure to wash all of the following in hot water that reaches 122°F:
These items should then be dried in the dryer on very high heat
for at least 10 to 30 minutes.
Anything that can’t be washed should be thoroughly vacuumed. When
you’re finished vacuuming, throw out the vacuum bag and thoroughly clean the
vacuum with bleach and hot water. Bleach and hot water can also be used to
clean other surfaces that may contain scabies mites.