What is scabies?
Scabies is an infestation
of the skin with the microscopic mite Sarcoptes scabei. Infestation
is common, found worldwide, and affects people of all races and social
classes. Scabies spreads rapidly under crowded conditions where there is
frequent skin-to-skin contact between people, such as in hospitals,
institutions, child-care facilities, and nursing homes.
What are the signs and symptoms of scabies infestation?
irritations, burrows or rash of the skin, especially the webbing between
the fingers; the skin folds on the wrist, elbow, or knee; the penis, the
breast, or shoulder blades.
- Intense itching,
especially at night and over most of the body.
- Sores on the body
caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected with
How did I get scabies?
By direct, prolonged,
skin-to-skin contact with a person already infested with scabies. Contact
must be prolonged (a quick handshake or hug will usually not spread
infestation). Infestation is easily spread to sexual partners and
household members. Infestation may also occur by sharing clothing, towels,
Who is at risk for severe infestation?
People with weakened
immune systems and the elderly are at risk for a more severe form of
scabies, called Norwegian or crusted scabies.
How long will mites live?
Once away from the human
body, mites do not survive more than 48-72 hours. When living on a person,
an adult female mite can live up to a month.
Did my pet spread scabies to me?
No. Pets become infested
with a different kind of scabies mite. If your pet is infested with
scabies, (also called mange) and they have close contact with you, the
mite can get under your skin and cause itching and skin irritation.
However, the mite dies in a couple of days and does not reproduce. The
mites may cause you to itch for several days, but you do not need to be
treated with special medication to kill the mites. Until your pet is
successfully treated, mites can continue to burrow into your skin and
cause you to have symptoms.
How soon after infestation will symptoms begin?
For a person who has
never been infested with scabies, symptoms may take 4-6 weeks to begin.
For a person who has had scabies, symptoms appear within several days. You
do not become immune to an infestation.
How is scabies infestation diagnosed?
Diagnosis is most
commonly made by looking at the burrows or rash. A skin scraping may be
taken to look for mites, eggs, or mite fecal matter to confirm the
diagnosis. If a skin scraping or biopsy is taken and returns negative, it
is possible that you may still be infested. Typically, there are fewer
than 10 mites on the entire body of an infested person; this makes it easy
for an infestation to be missed.
Can scabies be treated?
Yes. Several lotions are
available to treat scabies. Always follow the directions provided by your
physician or the directions on the package insert. Apply lotion to a clean
body from the neck down to the toes and left overnight (8 hours). After 8
hours, take a bath or shower to wash off the lotion. Put on clean clothes.
All clothes, bedding, and towels used by the infested person 2 days before
treatment should be washed in hot water; dry in a hot dryer. A second
treatment of the body with the same lotion may be necessary 7-10 days
later. Pregnant women and children are often treated with milder scabies
Who should be treated for scabies?
Anyone who is diagnosed
with scabies, as well as his or her sexual partners and persons who have
close, prolonged contact to the infested person should also be treated. If
your health care provider has instructed family members to be treated,
everyone should receive treatment at the same time to prevent
How soon after treatment will I feel better?
Itching may continue for
2-3 weeks, and does not mean that you are still infested. Your health care
provider my prescribe additional medication to relieve itching if it is
severe. No new burrows or rashes should appear 24-48 hours after effective
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