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 in crowded conditions, through close personal contact, including close skin to skin contact with family, household members, and sexual partners. It’s also sometimes spread by using the unwashed bed linen, clothes, or towels of an infected person.
What are the signs and symptoms of scabies?
People who have scabies will have a rash or bumps caused by mites burrowing into the skin. The rash may look like thread-line ridges 5-15 mm (0.2-0.6 inches) long but they can also be hard to see. The rash or bumps may appear anywhere on the skin, but they are usually found in between the fingers, the elbows, wrists, armpits, shoulder blades, in the creases under the buttocks, abdomen, and around the genitals. The bumps can become inflamed, crusty, or hard.
It typically takes 2-6 weeks after exposure to see a rash or bumps. This is when 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 can still be spread. The symptoms will appear more quickly (often within hours after exposure, but within 1-4 days) in people who have had scabies before. Scratching the burrows can cause infection.
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?
The medicine to treat scabies is called a “scabicide.” These are creams/lotions (such as Permethrin cream 5%) that you apply directly to the affected skin. The cream kills the mites and is recommended for the infested person and anyone else who has been in close contact with them. Do not try to treat yourself with over-the-counter creams or lotions as these products do not work. You can only get medicine for scabies with a prescription from a health care provider. Be sure to read the instructions on the box before applying the cream/lotion.
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 you see new burrows, 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 sealed bag for at least 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 sexual 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 days after treatment. The exception is if you have “crusted scabies” and have thin crusts of skin infested with 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?
Avoid close contact and sex with partners who have scabies. You have a much lower chance of getting scabies if you 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.