What is Scabies?
Scabies is not a skin infection, but an infestation caused by tiny mites that tunnel into the epidermis (skin).
These mites are called sarcoptes scabiei, and they like warm areas of the body such as between the fingers and under nails, in skin folds, and in crevices around the buttocks or breasts. The result of this burrowing is a contagious, painful Scabies rash that is incredibly itchy, especially at night.
What causes Scabies?
Scabies is highly contagious, and is spread via long periods of skin-to-skin contact.
In rare cases, it can be spread via sharing items such as clothes or towels, or via sexual contact. The condition is common in areas such as the Caribbean, Africa, India and Central and South America, and although certain groups are at higher risk of contracting it, anyone who comes into contact with scabies can develop the infestation. Children and parents, the elderly, and sexually active people are at higher risk of coming into contact with scabies.
The condition is caused when the scabies mites, using their mouths and front legs, tunnel through the top layer of the skin and lay eggs. These tiny mites are almost invisible to the naked eye, with the female mite measuring around 0.4 mm x 0.3 mm, and male mites measuring 0.2 mm x 0.15 mm. Once these hatch and move to the surface of the skin, they mature into adult mites. It can take up to eight weeks for someone who is infected with scabies to become symptomatic and develop a scabies rash.
What are the symptoms of Scabies?
Once symptomatic, the individual affected will develop a scabies rash that is incredibly itchy.
The rash does not necessarily occur at the site of the initial burrowing, but it often tends to be severe and painful when it first develops. This itching is caused by the skin’s allergic reaction to the mites themselves, along with their eggs, saliva and faeces, and while it can be especially uncomfortable after a bath or overnight, it’s important to try and refrain from scratching. This is because this can damage the skin and cut it open, leaving it prone to infection.
The scabies rash itself is red and lumpy, and in addition to this, mite tunnels can also develop. These are the lines through which the mites burrow, and are most commonly visible through the skin between the fingers and toes.
How do you treat Scabies?
If you suspect you have the condition, you should go to your GP and seek treatment for scabies immediately.
The condition is not serious, but it is contagious. The most common scabies treatment is topical cream containing insecticide to kill the mites. You should refrain from physical contact whilst undergoing a course of treatment to reduce the likelihood of contaminating anyone else.
Where can I find more information on Scabies?
For further information on causes, symptoms and treatment for scabies, the following resources are available:
These images are kindly provided by DermNetNZ.org for non-commercial use, for the purpose of education and information. The images have not been modified and DermNetNZ do not endorse The London Skin and Hair Clinic. You can find a copy of the license at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/nz/.