Scabies is a common skin condition which results in a red, intensely itchy rash. It is a highly contagious condition, which can spread easily within households.
A common misconception of scabies is that it can only occur if someone has poor personal hygiene – this is false, and even those with excellent hygiene can catch scabies.
If you or someone you’re close to catches scabies it is important to understand how to treat it, and how you can stop it from spreading to other people. With early intervention and proper treatment, it can be effectively managed.
Read on to learn about scabies, its symptoms, and treatments.
What is Scabies?
With approximately 200 million cases worldwide at any given time, scabies is a very common parasitic infection.
It is caused by tiny insects called mites (S. scabiei) that are the size of a pinhead. These mites reproduce on the surface of your skin and then female mites burrow below the surface to lay eggs.
The burrowing mites, their eggs, and their poo (faeces) trigger an allergic reaction on top of the skin. Small lumps or blisters form in patches on the skin.
Recognising the symptoms of scabies can help you find treatment sooner.
What are the Signs of Scabies?
- Rash:Red patches and blisters will appear on the skin. These will be raised and can be felt as bumps. Common sites of rash are between the fingers and toes, on your wrists, ankles, inside your elbows, armpits, around your waist, and on your bottom. Children can get a rash all over their body, and infants who are not yet walking may get a rash on the soles of their feet.
- Itching:The intensity of the itch will often get worse when you are warmer, such as after a shower or in bed at night. If you or a family member has experienced scratching for a prolonged period (multiple weeks) scabies could be the cause.
- Sores and crusts:Continuous scratching of sites due to itching can create sores and open wounds. There is a risk that blisters can become infected. If this occurs additional treatment for the skin infection may be recommended.
- Burrow tracks:It may be possible to spot the thread-like tracks of burrows. These subtle lines appear as tiny raised or discolored lines on the skin.
How can Scabies be Treated?
It’s important to treat scabies effectively or else it won’t go away and will spread easily to close contacts. To kill the mites, a lotion called permethrin is usually applied.
Everyone in a household should be treated at the same time even if they don’t have symptoms.
It’s often recommended to apply permethrin at night. The cream or lotion must be applied from head to toe, even in areas that are not itchy. It can be washed off the following morning. You may need to repeat the treatment in 7 days.
Why am I still itchy?
Itching can carry on for a few weeks after treatment. This doesn’t mean the medication hasn’t worked.
How to Stop Scabies from Spreading
The first morning after treatment:
- Hot wash (50°C) all used sheets, towels, face cloths, clothes anyone has used in the past week.
- If possible, tumble dry all items on the hottest possible setting for at least 10 minutes.
- If clothes or linen can’t be washed, they can be put in a sealed bag for 4 days OR put in a bag then sprayed with fly/mite spray and sealed for 2 hours OR put in a sealed bag then put in freezer overnight.
- Children’s soft toys may also need to be washed.