Scabies is a skin infestation caused by a mite known as the Sarcoptes scabiei. Untreated, these microscopic mites can live on your skin for months. They reproduce on the surface of your skin and then burrow into it and lay eggs. This causes an itchy, red rash to form on the skin. Although scabies can be bothersome, they can usually be eliminated effectively. Scabies is easily caught through skin-to-skin contact with affected people and can spread rapidly in crowded conditions. Scabies is highly contagious, but you can quell the itching by killing these pests and get your life back to normal.
Treatment often consists of medications that kill scabies mites and their eggs. Since scabies is so contagious, doctors will usually recommend treatment for an entire group of people who are in frequent contact with a person who has scabies. The itching is caused by your body’s allergic reaction to the mites, their waste, and the eggs they lay under your skin.
Symptoms of Scabies
After the initial exposure to scabies, it can take up to six weeks for symptoms to appear. The symptoms usually develop more quickly in people who’ve had scabies before.
- Intense itching, especially at night.
- Small red bumps (they may be pimple-like) appear on the skin like a rash
- Small burrow lines between the bumps. They are typically light gray and slightly raised.
- Continuous scratching of the infected area can create sores that become infected
- The rash usually appears soon after the itch starts. It is typically a blotchy, lumpy red rash that can appear anywhere on the body
- Mite tunnels
Common sites for scabies in older children and adults include the:
- the shoulder blades
- the female genital area
- around the nipples (in women)
- area between the fingers
- soles of the feet
Causes for Scabies
Scabies mites are so tiny, you can’t see them with the naked eye. They have a cream-coloured body, bristles and spines on their back, and four pairs of legs. Most of the symptoms of scabies are due to your immune system’s response to the mites, or to their saliva, their eggs or their poo (faeces). In other words, the rash and the itching are mostly caused by your body’s allergic-like reaction to the mites, rather than the mites themselves
- You need close skin-to-skin contact with an infected person to catch scabies. This is because the scabies mite cannot jump or fly.
- Close skin-to-skin contact when having sex is another common way of catching scabies.
- Sharing clothing, towels and bedding with an infected person (although this is rare)
Scabies mites can survive outside the human body for 24 to 36 hours, making infection by coming into contact with contaminated clothes, towels or bed linen a possibility
Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor who is experienced in dealing with scabies will usually be able to recognise the typical inflamed burrows in the skin of the hands, wrists and elsewhere. Scabies will not usually disappear by itself, so it requires treatment.
- We recommend that you go to your GUM clinic or possibly your GP, for diagnosis and treatment.
- Permethrin only kills mites and not ova (eggs). so, a second application is necessary for treatment.
- For people with a severe infestation and weakened immune system, doctors may prescribe Ivermectin as an oral treatment. Ivermectin is an oral medication. It is generally used for crusted scabies and taken as a single one-time dose.
- Several herbs are traditionally used for treating scabies.
- Other medications, such as antihistamines, anti-itching lotions like Pramoxine lotion, antibiotics and steroid creams might be prescribed to offer relief from symptoms. Treatment with prescribed medications will generally kill mites quickly.
- Lotions and creams are commonly used to treat scabies.
- Contact your GP if theitching hasn’t improved after 2 weeks of treatment and you notice new burrows on your skin.