Scabies is a skin condition that causes significant itching and a rash of raised bumps, which may include blisters and scales.
Scabies occurs worldwide and can affect anyone, regardless of their age, background, and other personal factors. An individual’s personal hygiene regimen has no effect on whether they get scabies.
Although the symptoms can appear on any part of the body, scabies commonly affects the wrists, elbows, armpits, buttocks, waist, nipples, and penis, as well as the webbing between the fingers.
In young children and infants, common sites include the soles, palms, head, face, and neck.
Scratching the rash can sometimes lead to infection. People with a compromised immune system can develop a version of the condition known as crusted scabies or Norwegian scabies. This type is more severe and spreads to other people much more easily.
A microscopic parasite is responsible for scabies. Known as the human itch mite, or Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis, this parasite burrows into the skin and lays eggs. About 10 days after the eggs hatch, the mites become adult mites.
As mites move through the skin, they make tunnels, or burrows, which are sometimes visible on the skin’s surface. These burrows may look like slightly raised and crooked skin-colored or gray-white lines.
The intense itching that is a key characteristic of scabies occurs due to the body’s reaction to the presence of the mites.
Scabies spreads through extended, skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies. In adults, the transmission of scabies frequently occurs through sexual contact.
When a person has scabies, there are usually only 10–15 mites on their body at any given time, which makes spread through casual contact less likely. Therefore, a handshake or hug will not usually spread it.
Scabies can spread more easily in crowded, close quarters, such as child care centers, nursing homes, and prisons.
A person can also get scabies indirectly by sharing towels, sheets, blankets, pillows, or clothes with someone who has the condition.
Pets and animals cannot spread scabies. Pets can get mange, which results from a different kind of mite and could make someone itch for a few days, but it is not the same as scabies.
As scabies spreads primarily through extended skin-to-skin contact, the only way for a person to ensure that they do not get it is to avoid such contact completely.
Once scabies has entered a household, the best way to prevent the spread is to treat everybody who lives there and be thorough in disinfecting. This process involves washing and drying all personal items at as high a temperature as possible and thoroughly vacuuming the carpets and furnishings in all of the rooms in which people with scabies have spent time.
If it is not possible to wash, dry clean, or disinfect an item, a person should put it in a plastic bag, seal it, set it aside, or take other steps to make sure that no one comes into contact with it for 72 hours.
It is not necessary to fumigate a living space if someone there has scabies.
However, scabies cannot survive for more than 3 days without a human host, and this is also how long it takes for their eggs to die.
Temperatures of 122°F (50°C) can kill scabies mites after 10 minutes.
Treating scabies requires prescription medication. Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies are not effective against scabies.
It is very important to follow the directions that come with the scabies medication. Generally, adults apply the medication, which is a lotion or cream, all over their body from the neck down, taking special care with their feet, toes, hands, and fingers. It is important to apply the medication to the head and neck when treating infants and children.
A person will need to leave the medication on the skin for as long as the instructions specify. Sometimes, this can mean leaving it on overnight before washing it off in the morning and putting on clean clothes.
If one person in the household has scabies, everyone in the household should seek diagnosis and treatment. Any sexual partners of the individual should also get treatment.
All clothing, sheet, towels, blankets, and bedding in the household will require washing. As scabies mites cannot survive exposure to heat, people should wash items in the hottest water possible and dry them on the hot cycle or dry clean them.
For most people, the rash and itching are gone within 2–4 weeks of treatment, although another round of treatment is sometimes necessary.
Some people may need additional treatment to control the itching, swelling, discoloration, and skin infections that scabies can cause. In such situations, doctors may prescribe antihistamines, topical anesthetics, steroids, or antibiotics.
Reinfection is always a risk, so a person should watch for itching, rashes, and burrows for the next 2–4 weeks and repeat the treatment if they spot any signs.
Scabies is a very contagious skin condition that occurs due to mites that spread between people through prolonged skin-to-skin contact.
Prescription medication is necessary for treating scabies. The careful and thorough cleaning of all clothing, bedding, and high-touch objects is also essential for stopping the spread.