Scabies is contagious skin infestation caused by a mite called Sarcoptes scabiei var. Hominis with an estimated 300 million cases annually worldwide. Scabies is more common in the winter because of greater physical crowding and that the mites can survive longer in colder temperatures. Scabies does not directly cause disease, except if the skin gets infected.
How is Scabies spread?
The microscopic scabies insect is easily passed by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who already is infested and can also be transmitted during sexual contact. Short contact, like shaking hands or a hug, usually does not spread scabies. The scabies mite can live off skin for up to 3 days so it can also be spread by undergarments or soiled bedding which have recently been contaminated. Note that a person with scabies can spread it even if there are no symptoms. Animals do not spread human scabies.
Who is at risk for developing Scabies?
Having scabies does not mean you are not clean as it can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, race, income or personal hygiene habits. However, people who live in poverty or in overcrowded conditions are at much higher risk. Scabies can spread easily under crowded conditions where close body and skin contact is common. As a result, nursing homes, long-term-care facilities and prisons are often sites of scabies outbreaks. Child care facilities also are common settings of scabies infestations.
What are the symptoms?
The scabies mites dig into the skin and lay eggs. This leads to small, red, raised spots that typically appear between the fingers, in the groin area, between toes or around the wrists or elbows, but can be found anywhere on the body. In babies and young children, the rash can appear on the head, face, neck, chest, abdomen and back. Itching begins two to six weeks after the first exposure and can be severe, especially at night.
Scabies is treated with specific cream or lotion preparations. Depending on where you live, some forms are available without a prescription. IMPORTANT: Certain treatments should not be given to infants or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is best to check with your healthcare provider first. Depending on the type used, it is usually kept on the skin for several hours or overnight, and may need 2 treatments, 1 week apart. Be sure to follow the specific product directions. It is important to know that that itchiness may continue for a few weeks, even if the mites have all died. This does not mean that the treatment did not work.
How can Scabies be controlled?
- Scabies treatment is recommended for members of the same household, especially for those who have had prolonged skin-to-skin contact. All household members and other potentially exposed individuals should be treated at the same time as the infested person.
- Bedding and clothing worn next to the skin, anytime during the 3 days before treatment, should be machine-washed and dried using the hot water and hot dryer cycles or be dry-cleaned. Items that cannot be dry-cleaned or laundered can be disinfested by storing them in a closed plastic bag for a week.
- Infested children and adults can usually return to child care, school, or work the day after treatment.