Scabies: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments


Scabies refers to the infestation of the human skin by a particular type of microscopic mite known as the sarcoptes scabei. Sarcoptes are a family of different skin parasites, and are closely related to psoroptes mites, known to infest the skin of domestic animals. The effects of the sarcoptes scabiei, known as scabies or “the itch,” are not uncommon.

Typically, scabies is contracted when a fertilized adult female mite burrows into the skin, usually at the hands or wrists, and lays its eggs.

The female burrows into the skin using its mouth and special cutting tools located on her front legs. Eggs are laid sporadically, in small numbers, as the mite burrows. As they hatch, the six-legged larvae climb out on to the skin and search for hair follicles, where they feed and molt.

It is in the human hair follicles that the larvae move to the nymphic stage, where the creature feeds and molts, eventually growing into an adult.

The infestation of these mites and the incidence of scabies are quite common. Scabies knows no bounds, effecting humans worldwide, across different races and social classes. Scabies tends to spread rapidly in crowded conditions where frequent skin-to-skin contact exists. Hospitals, institutions, child-care facilities, and nursing homes, are common breeding grounds for the sarcoptes scabei.

Symptoms of a Scabies Infestation

The following symptoms are common signs of a scabies infestation:

Pimple-like irritations or other skin rashes: Commonly, these irritations will occur between fingers, on skin folds on the wrist, elbow, or knee, as well as on the penis, the breast, or shoulder blades. However, such rashes may occur anywhere on the body. Intense itching: Such itching usually occurs most at night and will affect most of the body. Sores: The sores that may occur during a scabies infestation are not typically associated with the infestation itself, but rather by scratching. Be aware that such sores may become infected with bacteria and cause additional health issues.

How Is Scabies Contracted?

A scabies infestation is usually brought on through direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person already infested. This means that scabies cannot be contracted through quick handshakes or hugs. Infestation often occurs between sexual partners and members of one particular household.

This close contact variable makes not only institutional healthcare facilities breeding grounds for infestation, but hotels/motels and dormitories high-risk locations because infestation can also occur through shared clothing, towels, and bedding.

Those who suffer from weakened immune systems, particularly the elderly, are always at a greater risk for severe cases of Scabies.

There is a common misconception that Scabies can be contracted from domestic animals. This is absolutely untrue. Pets are often infested with a different type of mite.

The Infestation

Without a host (the human body) sarcoptes scabei cannot survive more than three days. However, if they have made their way into the skin, mites can live as long as a month.

An individual, who has not been previously infested, may not see symptoms for up to 6 weeks after exposure. However, those who have suffered from scabies may see symptoms surface within a few days.

Infestations can be diagnosed by a medical professional that will look at the rash and take a sample of the infected skin. However, infestation can often be missed because there are usually less than ten mites on the entire body of an infested human.

Scabies Treatment

There are several prescription topical solutions available for the treatment of scabies. Be sure to follow your physician’s recommendations as well as the directions provided with the medication.

Typically, lotions should be applied to a clean body, from neck to toe and left overnight. After 8 hours, the lotion should be washed away. All bedding and clothing should be washed thoroughly in hot water. A second treatment may be necessary approximately one week later.

Not only should the person diagnosed with scabies receive treatment, but all of their sexual partners and those with whom they have had close contact should be treated as well. All family members should receive the same treatment, as well, to prevent re-infestation.

Once treated, itching may continue for up to three weeks, even if the infestation has been eradicated. Additional topical solutions may also be available to sooth the itching.