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Scabies: Signs, symptoms, treatments

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Scabies: Signs, symptoms, treatments

writtenByWritten by: Leah McCabe
Leah McCabe

Leah McCabe

Leah likes writing about health and science subjects. Through her writing she hopes to help people of all backgrounds have equal access to information and quality healthcare.

Read more posts by this author.

August 23, 2018 Read Time - 9 minutes

Early signs and symptoms of scabies can vary quite a bit. Learn what scabies is and when you should contact a doctor.

What are scabies?

Scabies are infestation of the skin by a microscopic mite called Sarcoptes scabiei.

It can be quite scary!

They occur when a female scabies bug burrows just beneath the surface of the skin, lays eggs, and her eggs hatch releasing more mites into the skin—usually about 10-15 mites.

These mites then work their way to the surface to either burrow in the skin again (to lay more eggs) or find another person to infest.

The mites that cause scabies in humans are not the same as those that infest animals, such as dogs. Scabies in dogs are unable to live long off of the dog and while they can travel from your dog to you, they will die on a human host and you will not need further treatment. Mites that infest animals cannot survive on humans.

It’s estimated that 300 million people worldwide are afflicted by scabies every year.

Are scabies contagious?

Scabies are highly contagious especially in crowded environments where people have frequent skin-to-skin contact.

These environments include places like: preschool/daycare centers, school classrooms, prisons, nursing homes, group homes and other crowded environments.

These environments allow scabies to thrive as they can easily move from person-to-person laying eggs given the close quarters.

Because scabies is so contagious those in close contact to an infested person are recommended to seek treated as well, even if they show no symptoms.

Scabies symptoms can be delayed for 2-6 weeks after a person becomes infested. But they are still contagious during this time period. This allows them to infest many people before anyone even knows there’s an outbreak.

Scabies symptoms

The symptoms of scabies are often delayed several weeks after an infestation, in some cases it can take up to 6 weeks for symptoms to set in. This is because the skin does not immediately react to the mites.

However, those who have had scabies before, usually show symptoms after only a few days.

When the symptoms do set in they consist of:
• Sever itching, that usually worsens at night
• A pimple like rash
• Scaly skin and blistering
• Sores caused by scratching
• Thin, raised burrow tracks on the skin, made up of blisters and bumps, ranging in color from white, to red to the color of your skin

Common places of infestation in adults and older children include:
• Between the fingers
• In the armpits
• Around the waist
• Along the insides of the wrists
• On the inner elbows
• One the soles of the feet
• Around the breasts
• Around the male genitals
• On the buttocks
• On the knees

Common places of infestation in young children and babies are:
• Scalp
• Palms of the hands
• Soles of the feet

Is scabies an STD?

While scabies can be transmitted sexually, they are not exclusively contracted that way. Any skin-to-skin touching for an extended period of time can result in the transmission of scabies from one person to another.

That said sex is the most common way scabies are transmitted between adults.

A common place of infestation is the penis. You are at a higher risk of scabies on penis if you have had sex or intimate relations with a person infected with scabies. Your risk is also higher if you have multiple sexual partners.

Scabies on the penis looks like a pimply rash and raised burrow tracks. It is extremely itchy and will cause discomfort. If you think you have scabies on your penis see a doctor for official diagnosis, as there are other STDs you could have.

Condoms do not prevent the spread of scabies. The best way to prevent spreading scabies is to refrain from close contact and intimate touching until the scabies have been treated and all bedding and clothing is properly cleaned. Close contact before this point puts your partner(s) at risk of contracting scabies, as it is highly contagious, specifically in intimate settings with skin-to-skin contact.

How do you catch scabies?

As stated above, scabies is commonly spread through sexual contact in adults. However, you can also catch scabies by sharing a bed or clothes with an infected person. Having any skin-to-skin contact is a sure way to spread scabies.

Environments that involve close contact with other people such as classrooms and nursing homes are common places for scabies to spread.

If you are exposed to a person with a scabies infestation, catching scabies is likely because it is highly contagious.

If you have been exposed to scabies, contact your doctor and seek preventative treatment.

Symptoms of scabies are often delayed and treatment before symptoms arise will save you from discomfort and rash.

When to see a doctor for scabies

If you or someone close to you is experiencing the above symptoms is it important to see a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor can confirm your symptoms are a result of a scabies infestation and prescribe you the proper treatment medication.

People who have come into close contact with a person who has been infested with scabies should also see a doctor to prevent an outbreak, even if they are not showing symptoms. Because of the delayed nature of the symptoms you can be infested long before knowing it.

Undergoing scabies treatment is not harmful even if you do not have scabies and is highly preventative.

Scabies Treatment
Scabies will not go away on their own and are typically treated with prescription creams and lotions called scabicides.

Scabicide lotion/cream should be applied as directed by your doctor in accordance with the instructions on the bottle. Usually this includes applying the lotion everywhere from the neck down and leaving it on for 8 to 14 hours before washing it off with warm water.

Scabies in babies is treated differently than in adults.

Babies infested with scabies will be prescribed permethrin or sulfur ointment as other lotions contain harmful chemicals to an infant. When applying these treatments to babies it should be applied to the entire head, scalp and neck because unlike adults, these areas are common points of entrance for the mites in babies.

As stated above, those who have come into close contact with a person who has scabies should undergo treatment as well, even if no symptoms are showing.

While scabicides are highly effective at killing the mites, the itching will typically persist for several days after the mites have been killed.

To help ease the discomfort of itching there are several over the counter anti itch creams and pills that can provide relief, such as hydrocortisone and antihistamine pills.

What kills scabies instantly?

While there is no known method of treatment that provides instant relief, doctor prescribed scabicides and some oral medications are the fastest known methods to killing the mites that cause scabies.

Once the mites and their eggs have been killed, the rash and itching will subside within a few days. There are several anti-itch creams and ointments that can be applied to the infested area that will help ease your discomfort while you recover.

Scabies home remedies

You should always see your doctor to confirm you diagnosis of scabies and talk over home remedies for scabies before trying them. Some common home remedies for scabies include:
• Tea tree oil: tea tree oil for scabies can be effective given its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, acaricidal (able to kill mites), and antipruritic (itching releif) properties. That said it is less effective at killing mite eggs and should be paired with other treatment.
• Neem: neem oil, soaps, and creams can be a useful alternative treatment for scabies. It has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and analgesic properties.
• Aloe Vera: aloe vera can help ease itching and provides comfort but is not reliable to kill the mites.

While some studies have shown these treatments to be effective more research is needed.

Not everyone will respond the same way to treatment and it is crucial you discuss what treatment plan is best for your case of scabies and those who you have put at risk with your doctor.

In most cases, the fastest and most effective ways to kill scabies and get relief are prescribed creams and ointments.

Scabies Prevention

In addition to undergoing treatment there several other measures to be taken to prevent the spreading of highly contagious scabies. These include:
• Washing all bedding (sheets, pillow cases, pillows, mattress pads/covers, blankets tec.) that may have become infested in warm soapy water and putting them through a hot dryer.
• Wash all clothing, hats, shoes and jackets that are at risk of infestation in warm soapy water before putting through a hot dryer.
• Wash all towels in warm soapy water and put through a hot dryer.
• Starve the mites by placing infected items in plastic bags for several weeks (mites will usually starve to death in a few days without a host person).

Scabies are an itchy and frustrating infestation that can take weeks to appear and are highly contagious.

Luckily there are several effective treatments available that kill the mites and their eggs and provide you with relief from itching and pain.

See your doctor to ensure that you are in fact suffering from scabies and can begin the best treatment regimen as soon as possible.

Additionally it is crucial that you clean and disinfect your house. Mites can live off the human body for 2-3 days and re-infestation is common. To avoid this you must wash everything.

While scabies can be scary given how contagious and uncomfortable they can be, the good news is that it does not have any major long-term health risks and is easily treatable once identified.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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