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Conditions & Diseases: Skin Diseases



Introduction: Scabies is a transmittable, parasitic skin infection caused by a mite called sarcoptes scabiei. Scabies is characterized by intense itching of the tiny, red bumps or marks caused by the mites which burrow into the skin to lay their eggs. Scabies in humans is highly contagious and an infestation can require treatment for the entire family or group such as classmates and nursing home residents. Scabies in humans is not the same type of scabies that cats or dogs get, which is called mange. Although pet scabies can spread to humans, those type of mites usually die after a few days.

Although people with a weakened immune system are more vulnerable to scabies (including children and the elderly), scabies can infest any one of any age group of any social class.

Signs & Symptoms
The scabies mites are tiny, eight-legged anthropods that cannot be seen without magnification. Once the scabies mites make their way onto a human host, it can take 4 to 6 weeks for symptoms to appear. During this period, a person is contagious and can unknowingly spread the mites to other family members or classmates. The symptoms which develop are actually an allergic reaction to the adults, eggs and waste of the scabies mites. This allergic reaction takes approximately 4 weeks to develop. In a reinfestation, a reaction can occur in a matter of hours or days.(1)

The intense itching that accompanies a scabies infection can be more intense at night time. In a normal scabies infestation, 5 to 15 mites may live on the host with 10 being the average. These mites appear as tiny, red bumps or irregular S-shaped lines caused by the mites burrowing a path under the skin. Mites can occur anywhere on the body but are mostly found: between the fingers, armpits, waist, insides of wrists, inner elbows, breasts, male gential area, knees, and shoulder blades. (2). In younger children, infestations occur mostly on the hands and feet, inner wrists and under the arms.(3)

How Scabies Spreads:
According to the Centers for Disease Control, scabies spread by direct, prolonged skin to skin contact with an infected person, to include sexual contact.(4) The key word here is prolonged because it cannot be spread by a simple hand shake or hug. Mites are unable to fly or jump. A person can also become infected with scabies by sharing clothes, towels, and bedding with someone who is infected.

Scabies in humans is not the same type that your dog or cat gets. The type that infects your pets can infect humans, but dies in a few days and does not reproduce.

If you believe you have scabies, you should see your doctor or dermatologist. Scabies is most commonly treated with prescription strength topical, medicated lotions. In severe or persistent cases, oral ivermectin (an anti-parasite medication) may be prescribed.

Follow your doctor's instructions when using the medicated lotion. According to the CDC, a single application covering the entire body (except the face) for 8 hours is often sufficient, followed by another application 1 week later.


Since scabies can live in clothing, bedding and towels, all items that were in contact with the infected person should be washed in hot water with detergent and dried in a hot dryer.

Even though the scabies can be effectively treated with the medicated lotion, itching may persist for 1 to 3 weeks. Your doctor may recommend calamine lotion and oral antihistamines to sooth the itching.

If left untreated, the intense scratching may lead to bacterial infections and impetigo, which is a highly contagious skin infection characterized by crusting and pus filled blisters called pustules.(1,2,4)

Article by Jason Morrow,

(1)., Scabies, William D Binder MD, June 2006
(2). MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, Scabies, Michael S. Lehrer, MD, October 2006
(3), Scabies, reviewed by: Barbara P. Homeier, MD, and Joel Klein, MD, July 2005
(4) Centers for Disease Control, Division of Parasitic Diseases, Scabies Fact Sheet, February 2005




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