What is scabies?

Scabies is an itchy skin rash caused by microscopic eight legged mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) that burrow under your skin.; It is itchy because the female deposits eggs and feces under your skin and this triggers an allergic reaction. This disease can be transmitted by any close skin-to-skin contact, even hand-holding. It can also be transmitted by contact with contaminated clothes and bedding. Scabies is extremely contagious.

What are the symptoms?

You develop a very itchy rash with red patches, usually between the fingers, around the wrists, and on the elbows, armpits, navel, nipples, lower abdomen, and genitals. You may also itch under your rings, bracelet, and watchband. Scabies mites rarely infect face or head. The itching is usually most intense after a hot bath or at night and may keep you awake. You may also see curvy white or red lines where the mites have burrowed under your skin (these are visible in only about 25 percent of people with scabies). Scabs may form where you've scratched, and a bacterial infection may develop.

Is there a way to know when I caught this?

If this is your first infection, up to a month may pass before you begin to itch. If you've had scabies before, it may take only a few days.

Do I have to get treated or will this go away on its own?

Without treatment, you might develop crusted or Norwegian scabies, a more severe and highly infectious form of the illness. If so, your hands, feet, and trunk will be scaly and crusted, with innumerable live mites hiding under the crusts. Often there will be little or no itching. The condition is difficult to treat, because the medications used to kill the mites may not be able to get through your thickened skin.

How is scabies diagnosed?

Your doctor may be quite certain of the diagnosis simply from your symptoms and the appearance of your skin, or s/he may do a painless test that involves scraping off a small piece of skin and looking at it under a microscope. Scabies mites or their eggs will show up under magnification.

How is scabies treated?

  • 5% permethrin cream, spread on your skin from the neck down. Wash the cream off after 8-14 hours
  • Sex partners and perhaps other members of the household should be treated also.
  • Vacuum the floors (throwing the bag in the trash), then wash all clothing, towels, and bedding in water over 130° F and dry it in a dryer. (Be sure to turn the washing machine thermostat back down to 120° after you've finished to avoid accidental scalding.) Apply the cream at night, do your wash the first thing the next morning, shower, and then transfer laundry to the dryer. If you have items that can't be washed, such stuffed animals or other toys, seal them in a plastic bag for at least three days. Scabies mites can't live for more than three to four days without a human host.
  • Cortisone cream for itching, which can persist after the mites are dead.
  • Repeat treatment if symptoms continue after a week. Rash may linger for 2 – 6 weeks.

How long will I be contagious?

One treatment with the cream is effective. You may itch for some days after the mites are dead.

Is the medicine safe?

Government experts and the medical community consider permethrin cream safe for everyone, including infants and pregnant or lactating women. Some of the medicines previously used to treat scabies (such as Lindane cream) were more controversial.

How can I keep from getting scabies?

The only way is to avoid contact with anyone who might have it. The disease often breaks out in daycare centers or other crowded environments. Good hygiene can help. People who bathe or shower regularly, wash their clothes after one or two wearings, and avoid sharing hats, combs, and even headphones may lower their risk of infection. It's important to practice safe sex, too.

Can I get scabies from my pet?

No. Animals don't carry the same kind of scabies. You can pick up another type that's found on dogs - but it can't survive on people, so the infection will usually clear up on its own.

Source: University of South Carolina Student Health Services