DefinitionScabies is an infestation of the skin. It is caused by a tiny mite.
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CausesAn infestation results when the female mite burrows into the skin and lays its eggs. The scabies mite does not suck blood. It does not transmit any disease other than scabies between people.Scabies is highly contagious. Most often, it is passed from person to person through:
- Close and generally prolonged physical contact
- Sexual contact
Risk FactorsChildren younger than 15 years of age and adults older than 65 years are at greater risk for this condition. Factors that increase your chance of scabies include:
- Sexual contact with new or multiple partners
- Close, physical contact with a person who has scabies
- Living in close quarters with others, such as in a nursing home or military barracks
- A weakened immune system
- Close contact with an animal with scabies
SymptomsSymptoms of scabies include:
- Intense itching, usually worse at night
- Small red bumps, pimples, or lines on the skin
- Appear crusty
- Become infected and discharge pus
- Hands, especially between the fingers
- Wrists and elbows
- Genitals and pubic area (especially in men)
- Around the nipples (especially in women)
- Belly button and lower abdomen
- Areas where clothing is tight
- Under rings, watches, or jewelry
DiagnosisYou will be asked about your about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. While scabies can often be diagnosed based on these steps, a skin sample may be taken. The sample is examined under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
TreatmentIt is essential to remove scabies from the living environment to avoid re-infestation after treatment. All bedding and clothing must be thoroughly washed. Other members of the household or facility should be treated.
Permethrin Cream 5%Scabies is usually treated by applying permethrin cream 5%. It is applied to the skin from the neck down. The cream is left on for 8-12 hours, usually overnight. Excessive use of this medication can be harmful, especially in infants. Carefully read and follow the directions. It is best not to repeat treatments unless told to do so by a doctor.
Itch ReliefIt may take several weeks for itching to disappear following successful treatment. Itching can be temporarily relieved with:
- Corticosteroid cream
- Antihistamines and corticosteroids
Alternative MedicationsSome severe cases may respond poorly to treatments. In this case, an oral medicine, called ivermectin, is sometimes prescribed. It is given as a single dose that must be repeated after 1 week.Alternative topical creams include crotamiton 10% and lindane 1%.Lindane should only be used when other medications have not been effective. Lindane can be toxic. It should not be overused. Follow the directions as given.
PreventionTo reduce your risk of getting scabies, avoid close physical contact with anyone who has either had scabies or has had an undiagnosed itchy rash. Do not share their:
- If you share living quarters with an infected person and/or have close physical contact, consider treatment even if you do not have symptoms.
- Wash or dry clean all clothing, bedding, and towels that may have become infested. Set washing or drying temperatures to 140ºF (60ºC) or higher. Mites may live for at least 2-5 days after they leave a human body. They are probably infectious during some or all of that time, especially in room temperatures of 68ºF (20ºC) and above. Some experts suggest that items that cannot easily be cleaned be placed in a plastic bag for at least 3 days.
- Try to avoid contact for several days with hard-to-clean or non-cleanable items, like upholstered furniture. Talk to your doctor about ways to deal with household items that cannot be cleaned.
The American Academy of Dermatology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Dermatology Association
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- Reviewer: David L Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 01/2015
- Update Date: 01/13/2014