Scabies

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Overview

Scabies is a contagious skin condition resulting from the infestation of a mite. The Sarcoptes scabiei mite burrows within the skin and causes severe itching.  This itch is relentless, especially at night. Skin-to-skin contact transmits the infectious organism therefore, family members and skin contact relationships create the highest risk.  Scabies was declared a neglected skin disease by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009 and is a significant health concern in many developing countries. Infested individuals require identification and prompt treatment because a misdiagnosis can lead to outbreaks,  morbidity, and an increased economic burden 

Symptoms

Scabies symptoms include:

Itching, often severe and usually worse at night

Thin, wavy tunnels made up of tiny blisters or bumps on the skin

Scabies is often found in the skin folds. But scabies can appear on many parts of the body. In adults and older children, scabies is most often found:

Between the fingers and toes

In the armpits

Around the waist

Along the insides of the wrists

On the inner elbows

On the soles of the feet

On the chest

Around the nipples

Around the belly button

Around the genitals

In the groin area

On the buttocks

In infants and young children, common sites of scabies usually include the:

Fingers

Face, scalp and neck

Palms of the hands

Soles of the feet

Causes

Scabies is caused by a tiny, eight-legged mite. The female mite burrows just under the skin and makes a tunnel where it lays eggs.

The eggs hatch, and the mite larvae travel to the surface of the skin, where they mature. These mites can then spread to other areas of the skin or to the skin of other people. Itching is caused by the body's allergic reaction to the mites, their eggs and their waste.

Close skin-to-skin contact and, less often, sharing clothing or bedding with a person who has scabies can spread the mites.

Pets don't spread scabies to humans. The scabies mites that affect animals don't survive or reproduce in people.

However, coming in contact with an animal that has scabies may cause brief itching if the mite gets under the skin. But within a few days, the mite will die. So treatment isn't needed.

Risk factors

It is reported that overcrowded living conditions, sleeping together, sharing of clothes, sharing of towels, poor hygiene practices, malnutrition, and travel to scabies outbreak areas are common risk factors for scabies

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Complications

Scratching too much can break your skin and cause an infection, such as impetigo. Impetigo is an infection on the skin's surface that's caused most often by staph bacteria (staphylococci) or sometimes by strep bacteria (streptococci).

A more severe type of scabies, called crusted scabies, may affect certain people, including:

Young children

People with developmental disabilities

People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or lymphoma, or people who have had organ transplants

People who are very sick, such as people in hospitals or nursing facilities

Older people in nursing homes

Crusted scabies makes the skin crusty and scaly, and affects large areas of the body. It's very contagious and can be hard to treat. Quick treatment with both a prescription pill and a skin cream is needed.

Prevention

To prevent scabies from coming back and to keep the mites from spreading to other people, take these steps:

Wash all clothes and linen. Heat kills the mites and their eggs. Use hot, soapy water to wash all clothing, towels and bedding used in the last three days before beginning treatment. Dry with high heat. Dry-clean items you can't wash at home.

Starve the mites. Place items you can't wash in sealed plastic bags and leave them in an out-of-the-way place, such as your garage, for a week. Mites die after a few days without food.

Clean and vacuum. It's a good idea to clean your home to prevent scabies from spreading. This is especially true for people with crusted scabies. Vacuum furniture, carpets and floors to remove scales and crusts that may have scabies mites.