Scabies: Causes, Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis and Treatments

Scabies is a highly infectious skin condition caused by a tiny mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites burrow into the skin, causing intense itching and a pimple-like rash. The condition is spread through direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who already has scabies. It’s a global issue, affecting people of all races, income levels, and geographical settings. This guide provides an overview of the causes, symptoms, types, diagnosis, and treatments.

Causes

Scabies is caused by a mite that burrows into the top layer of skin and lays eggs. These mites are microscopic, barely visible to the human eye. The infestation is spread through direct physical contact with an already infected person. It can also be transmitted indirectly by sharing contaminated clothing, towels, bedding or furniture. Crowded living conditions, such as nursing homes or prisons, increase the risk of infection. Scabies is not caused by poor hygiene and can affect anyone, regardless of their personal cleanliness.

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Symptoms

The most recognizable symptom of scabies is intense itching, particularly at night. It’s an allergic reaction to the mites, their eggs and their waste. The itching often leads to scratching that can further irritate the skin and lead to the development of a rash. Other symptoms may include:

  • Skin rash: Typically, a pimple-like rash appears that may contain small blisters or scales.
  • Sores: Due to continuous scratching, sores may form which can potentially lead to secondary infections.
  • Thin, irregular burrow tracks: These are usually found in folds of skin and can be visible as lines of tiny blisters or bumps on the skin.
  • Common sites of infestation: These include the armpits, waist, insides of the wrists, inner elbows, soles of the feet, around the breasts in women, and around the genital area in men.

Remember, the symptoms may take up to six weeks to appear after the initial exposure, or they may appear within a few days if the individual has had scabies before. It’s essential to see a doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Types

There are four different types of scabies: classic scabies (also known as ordinary or typical), crusted scabies, nodular and Norwegian . Classic scabies is the most common type, while crusted and Norwegian scabies are rare but more severe forms of the condition.

  • Classic Scabies: This is the most common form of scabies, with a typical rash that appears on various parts of the body.
  • Crusted Scabies: This type is more severe and highly contagious. It can occur in people with weakened immune systems or those who have frequent contact with affected individuals.
  • Nodular Scabies: Nodules, or lumps, appear under the skin in this type of scabies. They are often found on the genitals and can be mistaken for genital warts.
  • Norwegian Scabies: This is an extreme form of scabies that can occur in immunodeficient individuals, and it’s characterized by thick, crusted skin and a large number of mites.

Related: Hives: Causes, Symptoms, Types, Diagnosis and Treatments

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Diagnosis

Diagnosing scabies often involves examining the affected areas for evidence of mites, eggs, or fecal matter. A skin scraping may also be taken to confirm the presence of mites. In some cases, a small sample of skin may be biopsied for further examination under a microscope.

Treatments

Treatment typically involves medications that kill the scabies mites and their eggs. In most cases, you’ll need to apply the medication all over your body, from your neck down, and leave it on for at least eight to 10 hours. Some common medications used to treat scabies include:

  • Permethrin cream (Elimite): This is a topical cream that is generally the first treatment doctors prescribe for scabies. It’s safe for adults, pregnant women, and children age 2 months and older.
  • Lindane lotion : Although effective, it’s not used as the first line treatment due to potential side effects, especially when used incorrectly. It’s not recommended for children, older adults, pregnant or nursing women, or those with weak immune systems.
  • Ivermectin (Stromectol): This is an oral medication. It’s an alternative for people who can’t tolerate other treatments or when other treatments fail.
  • Crotamiton (Eurax, Crotan): This is a less common medication for scabies. It’s applied once a day for 2-5 days.
  • Sulfur ointment: This is also used in certain cases and is safe for infants and pregnant women.

A follow-up appointment is usually scheduled two to four weeks after treatment to ensure the infestation has been effectively eradicated. It’s important to note that the itch may persist for a few weeks after treatment. This does not mean the scabies are still present; it’s a reaction to the mites and their feces. In some cases, a second course of treatment may be necessary to fully eliminate the infestation. It’s also important to wash all clothing, bedding, and towels in hot water and dry them on high heat to kill any remaining mites.

Prevention

To prevent scabies from spreading or recurring, it’s essential to:

  • Avoid close skin-to-skin contact: This is the most common way scabies are transmitted. Avoiding skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies can significantly reduce your risk of infection.
  • Don’t share personal items: Items such as clothing, towels, bedding, and furniture can spread mites if they were recently in contact with an infected person.
  • Wash and dry clothing and bedding in hot temperatures: This helps to kill any mites or eggs that may be present.
  • Clean your home thoroughly: Vacuuming and dusting can help reduce the number of mites on surfaces. It’s also essential to wash any items that have been in contact with an infected individual.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get scabies from my pet?

No, pets do not carry scabies. The mite that causes scabies is specific to humans.

Is scabies contagious?

Yes, it’s highly contagious and can be easily spread through close skin-to-skin contact or by sharing personal items.

Can I develop immunity to scabies?

No, there is no evidence that people can develop immunity to scabies infections. Re-infection can occur if you come in contact with someone who is infected.

Can I treat scabies at home?

It’s recommended to seek medical treatment for scabies. However, certain over-the-counter creams and lotions may help relieve itching and discomfort. It’s important to consult with a doctor before using any at-home treatments.

Can I get scabies from public places?

It’s unlikely to contract scabies from public places, such as swimming pools or gyms. The mites cannot survive long without a human host and are usually transmitted through close contact. However, it’s still important to practice good hygiene and avoid sharing personal items with others. Overall, prevention is key in preventing scabies infections. By following these measures and seeking prompt medical treatment if necessary, you can effectively manage and treat scabies. Remember to always seek medical advice for any concerns or questions regarding your health. Stay healthy and informed!

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with a healthcare provider for any concerns or questions regarding your health.

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Disclaimer

This site provides educational information only. It is important not to depend on any content here in place of professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Similarly, it should not replace professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any health concerns or questions, always seek guidance from a physician or another healthcare professional.