Scabies is a skin condition that can cause itching and a rash. It occurs due to infestations of microscopic mites and spreads through physical contact. Topical medications, such as permethrin cream, can treat it.

Scabies is contagious and can spread through close physical contact. This makes outbreaks likely in close settings, such as the family home, or schools.

In this article, learn about what scabies looks like, its symptoms, its causes, and some of its treatment options.

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Scabies affects around 200 million people worldwide at any one time. These are people of all races, ages, and socioeconomic statuses.

Scabies is highly contagious, spreading easily through close physical contact and sharing bedding, clothing, and furniture items infested with mites.

Scabies most often occurs in children and young adults, with outbreaks common in child care facilities and schools.

Scabies causes discolored rashes where mites burrow into the skin. These patches may appear scaly and involve bumps and blisters. and Severe scabies infestations can lead to heavy crusting.

The onset of scabies symptoms varies depending on whether or not a person has previously had exposure to mites. The first time a person has exposure to the scabies mite, it can take 4–8 weeks for symptoms to develop.

Some symptoms of scabies include:

  • Itching: This is often worse at night, and it can be severe and intense. Itching is one of the most common scabies symptoms.
  • Rash: When the mite burrows into the skin, it forms burrow tracks, or lines, which are most commonly present in skin folds. The rash may look like hives, bites, knots, pimples, or scaly skin patches. Blisters may also be present.
  • Sores: These occur in infested areas where a person has scratched the skin. Open sores can lead to impetigo, which is commonly caused by a secondary infection with Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Thick crusts: Crusted scabies is a form of severe scabies in which hundreds to thousands of mites and mite eggs are present within skin crusts. This causes severe skin symptoms.

Most often, people with crusted scabies exhibit widespread gray, thick, and crumbling crusts. Mites living in the detached crusts can live for more than a week without needing human contact due to the food provided by the crusts themselves.

Common scabies sites

The most common sites of infestation in adults and older children include:

  • between the fingers
  • around the fingernails
  • the armpits
  • the waistline
  • the inner parts of the wrists

Infants and young children tend to experience infestations in other areas of the body, including the:

  • scalp
  • face
  • neck
  • palms of the hands
  • soles of the feet

How long does scabies last?

Scabies mites can live for 1–2 months on children and adults. When not on people, mites only survive for up to 72 hours.

The human scabies mite can affect people in different ways, as follows:

  • Typical scabies: The most common type, this infestation causes itchiness on the hands, wrists, and other areas but not on the face or scalp.
  • Nodular scabies: This causes itchy, raised bumps that usually develop in the armpits, finger webbing, or the genital area.
  • Crusted scabies: People with typical scabies with weakened immune systems may develop this type. It produces thick, gray skin crusts containing thousands of scabies mites. It is extremely contagious.

Scabies is an infestation with the Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis mite, which is also known as the human itch mite. After burrowing under the skin, the female mite lays its eggs in the tunnel it has created. Once hatched, the larvae move to the skin’s surface, spreading across the body or to another host through close physical contact.

Scabies is highly contagious and spreads through physical contact. Because of this, some of the most likely people to experience an infestation include:

  • children attending daycare or school
  • parents or caregivers of young children
  • sexually active young adults
  • people with multiple sexual partners
  • residents of extended care facilities
  • older adults
  • people with weakened immune systems, including those with HIV, transplant recipients, and others taking immunosuppressant medications

Doctors generally treat scabies with topical medications such as 5% permethrin cream, crotamiton cream, or lindane lotion. Sometimes, a 25% benzyl benzoate lotion or 10% sulfur ointment may be necessary.

Ivermectin, which is an oral medication, may be an option for people with weakened immune systems, those with crusted scabies, or those who do not respond to topical therapy. However, people should not use ivermectin during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. It is also unsuitable for use in small children.

A doctor might prescribe other medications — including antihistamines, anti-itching lotions such as pramoxine lotion, antibiotics, and steroid creams — to relieve symptoms.

Some scabies infestations can resolve without treatment, whereas some may require medical treatment.

If a person wants to try a home remedy for scabies, they should contact a doctor first. Many home remedies are not scientifically proven to treat scabies effectively.

The following are some common home remedies for scabies:

  • Tea tree oil: This essential oil may help relieve itching and destroy mites.
  • Oatmeal bath: Taking a bath with colloidal oatmeal may soothe itching from a variety of skin conditions.
  • Moisturizer: Moisturizing the skin with a gentle, fragrance-free product may help relieve some scabies symptoms.
  • Loose-fitting clothing: Loose clothing can help prevent someone from irritating any affected skin.

If a person scratches or rubs their skin to relieve the intense itching of a scabies infestation, it may create skin sores.

Should these open sores become infected with bacteria on the skin, such as S. aureus, it could lead to serious conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease, or blood poisoning.

People can prevent scabies infestations by limiting contact with the skin of someone who already has one and items such as their bedding or clothing. However, this may be difficult when it comes to members of the same household or people who are near someone with an infestation.

To prevent subsequent infestations and spreading, a person should wash or dry-clean all clothes, towels, and linens. When doing so, they should use hot, soapy water and dry on high heat. People should also vacuum the entire home — including carpets, rugs, and upholstery — on the day treatment is initiated and either discard the bag or thoroughly clean the vacuum’s canister.

Scabies can cause rashes and itching. Microscopic mites and spreads through physical contact and can cause this skin condition. However, a person can treat scabies using topical medications, such as permethrin cream. Home remedies include tea tree oil and oatmeal baths, but a person should always contact a doctor before trying home remedies to treat scabies.

Preventing scabies is also possible through limiting skin contact with people who already have the condition. If someone already has scabies, they can reduce the spread by washing or dry-cleaning all soft materials and vacuuming floors in their home.

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