Scabies is a mite (tiny insect) that burrows into the skin. An itchy rash is caused when a female mite burrows into a person’s skin to lay her eggs.
Who gets scabies?
Anyone can get scabies. Scabies is a worldwide problem that can affect males and females of all ages and economic backgrounds. There are probably millions of people with scabies.
How is scabies spread?
Scabies are spread through close personal contact, including close skin to skin contact with family, household members, and sexual partners. It’s also spread by using the unwashed bed linen, clothes, or towels of an infected person.
What are the signs and symptoms of scabies?
The burrows that mites make are usually hard to see. They are thread-line ridges 5-15 mm (.2-.6 inches) long. The scabies mite usually burrows into the skin such as the wrists, the webs of the fingers, the abdomen, buttocks, and genital areas. Small blisters might show up at the end of burrows.
Four to six weeks after exposure to the scabies mite, the burrows become raised and intense itching occurs, especially when the person becomes warm in bed, or after exercise or a hot shower or bath. Even though the person might have no symptoms, scabies and still be spread. The symptoms will appear quicker (often within hours after exposure, but within 1-4 days) in people who have had scabies before. Scratching the burrows can cause infection. A rash or bumps can appear anywhere on the skin, but particularly in the webs between the fingers, inside the wrists, in the creases under the buttocks, in the creases of the abdomen, and around the genitals. The bumps can become inflamed, crusty, or hard.
How is scabies diagnosed?
You should see your health care provider (HCP) if you think you have scabies. He/she will diagnose scabies by a physical examination of the rash. Your HCP may sometimes take a scraping of the rash to look under the microscope for mites, fecal matter from the mite, mite eggs, or parts of eggs.
How is scabies treated?
Scabies is treated by “oral” (medicine taken by mouth) or “topical” prescription medications (applied to the skin). Do not try to treat yourself with over-the-counter creams or lotions. You can only get medicine with a prescription from a doctor. Follow the instructions on the medicine box.
Even after you finish treatment and the scabies mite is dead, you could have itching for 2 weeks or more. If you are still itching or new burrows are occurring, talk to your health care provider about possible retreatment. If you scratch a lot, you may get a bacterial infection which may need oral or topical antibiotics. If you get an infection, you should see your health care provider.
How can I prevent spreading scabies?
If you have scabies, avoid close body contact with others. You should get treatment right away to prevent spreading them to others. To kill the mites and eggs, wash your clothes and bed linens in hot water and dry on hot cycle, or dry-clean or put items in a bag for 72 hours (3 days). The scabies mites cannot survive more than 2-3 days away from human skin. This will kill the insects and eggs. If you find out you have scabies, you need to tell your sex partner(s) or anyone you have had close contact with or has shared your bed linens, clothes, or towels. These people should be treated at the same time you are even if they don’t have an itch or a rash. Usually you can return to school and/or work the day after treatment. The exception is if you have “crusted scabies” and have thick crusts of skin infested wtih mites. Compared to a usual infection of scabies with 10-15 mites, “crusted scabies” may have up to 2 million mites and is highly contagious. Talk to your HCP about what is best for your treatment plan.
How can I avoid getting scabies?
You have a much lower chance of getting scabies if you have only one sex partner (who doesn’t have scabies). Condoms do not prevent scabies. Try to avoid using other people’s clothing or bedding unless washed and dried for you. As soon as you think you have scabies, talk to your health care provider and get treated right away.