Scabies

What is scabies?

Scabies refers to a skin infection caused by a small mite. These mites spread from person to person by skin-to-skin contact or sharing personal items, such as towels or clothing. This condition can affect anyone, but is more common in situations in which people live in close contact with one another. The symptoms include itching and a rash between the fingers and toes or in areas where the skin folds. These signs are usually sufficient for providing a diagnosis. Scabies is not a serious condition but needs treatment in order to resolve. Treatment involves applying skin lotions to kill the mites, and taking steps to remove mites from household items such as linen and clothing. Most people recover well following treatment for scabies.

Risks

Scabies is a skin infection with a small mite. The mite burrows into the skin and lays eggs in the top layers of the skin. Scabies can affect people of all ages, social levels and living situations. However, because this condition is spread by close contact, it is more common in stitutions where people live in close contact with one another, such as in boarding houses, old-age homes and group homes. It is uncommon, but also possible, to pass scabies on through the use of personal items, especially towels and bed sheets. Scabies is also more common in tropical and sub-tropical areas.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of scabies is an intense itching which worsens at night. There is also a rash which consists of small red spots, blisters or short, red lines. The itch and rash tends to occur in the folds between the fingers or toes, around the nipples, wrists, elbows and groin. In severe cases, it can affect the whole body, although the face and scalp are often spared.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis can usually be made based on the symptoms and the appearance of the affected areas of skin. The diagnosis become more confident if more than one household member has the same symptoms. The diagnosis can be confirmed by examining a small scraping of skin for signs of the mites.

Treatment

Treating scabies involves killing the mites and removing all traces of the mites from the house. Scabies is treated by applying a medicated cream or lotion to the whole body. This medication kills the mites in the skin, and usually needs to be applied at least twice. Additionally, all clothes, bedding and towel should be washed with hot water or sealed in a plastic bag to make sure that all the mites are killed. Other people in the house, or close contacts who do not live with the affected person, should be treated, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

Prevention

Avoiding skin-to-skin contact with infected people can help to prevent scabies spreading. Washing linen regularly in hot water may also help. Thorough treatment also prevents the spreading or recurrence of the mites.

Other names for scabies

  • Itch
  • Mange
  • Seven-year itch