The Facts About Scabies

The definition, cause, symptoms, and treatment of scabies.

Scabies is a skin infection caused by the parasitic mite, Sarcoptes scabiei. It is extremely contagious and is spread by skin-to-skin contact. Although scabies is considered by many to be a sexually transmitted disease, anyone can get it by simply holding hands, changing a diaper on a baby, or by sharing clothes with an infected person.

Mites get into the human body by burrowing a hole in the skin. Although mites prefer to burrow in the folds of the skin, they can dig a hole anywhere. Mites prefer to burrow between the toes, in the webs of fingers, on the inner elbow, or in the genital area.

Once inside the body, the mites will make a tunnel and lay eggs. They need the blood to feed off of and if they are away from a human body for more than 48 hours, they will die.

The most common symptom is itching, especially at night. A scabies rash looks like a line of small blisters or red bumps. The affected skin might appear crusty or to have scales. Although a scabies rash generally affects the part of the body where the mites have burrowed, a full head-to-toe body rash can occur, especially in babies and small children.

The symptoms of scabies will appear two to six weeks after being infested. One exception is if the person has had scabies previously. In those cases, symptoms can appear in just a few days.

Scabies affects people of every age, race, gender, and social class. Although it does not discriminate, it is more common in crowded living areas, such as college dorms, military barracks, nursing homes, and daycare centers.

There is no over the counter treatment for scabies. Your doctor will give you a prescription for a cream containing 5% permethrin, crotamiton, or lindane. These medications kill mites and the eggs. Your family members that live in the same house will also have to be treated, whether they show symptoms or not.

In addition to applying the cream to kill the mites, your entire house and items such as clothing, furniture, and bedding, must be vacuumed, dry cleaned, and washed in hot water of at least 122 degrees Fahrenheit and dried on the hot cycle of the dryer for 20 minutes. The items you cannot clean in the above manner must be sealed in a plastic bag for several days to avoid reinfestation.

This article is not to be substituted for medical advice. If you suspect that you or someone else has scabies, please consult your physician.


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Colin Dovey
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Susan Kaul
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