Scabies: An Overview

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Scabies Mite - Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis. CDC/Joe Miller/Reed & Carnrick Pharmaceuticals

Warning: This Article Will Make You Itch

What is Scabies?

Scabies is a skin infection caused by the Sarcoptes scabei. It is not always a sexually transmitted disease. Scabies can also be passed between members of a household by skin-to-skin contact, shared clothing, towels, and bedding. This is in contrast to crabs, or pubic lice, where infections are almost always transmitted sexually,

Scabies mites can live for up to 3 days outside of the human body.

That gives them plenty of opportunities to cause an infection. It's also very difficult for some people to tell when and how they got infected. Symptoms can take up to 4 to 6 weeks to appear after initial exposure, and last for up to 2 to 3 weeks after treatment. That means that unless someone tells you that they exposed you, it can be very hard to ferret out the evidence.

Scabies causes a skin rash. This rash primarily shows up on folds of skin, such as between the fingers, on the wrists and ankles, and in the genital area. The scabies skin rash makes you incredibly itchy. Another telling sign of scabies is that the itching gets worse at night.

One of the clearest symptoms of scabies is red burrows found between the fingers and on the wrists and ankles. If you think you might be infected with scabies, try not to scratch. Scratching may cause sores. These sores can then get infected by other bacteria and lead to further problems.

The itching caused by scabies is annoying, yes. However, it's much less annoying than dealing with itching and additional infections. That's why it's important to seek out prompt treatment.

Several scabies treatments are available that are reasonably effective. These topical treatments help clear up the scabies rash and reduce the risk of more systemic infections.

However, there is a growing recognition that better treatments need to be developed. In areas of the world where scabies is common, people often suffer from recurrent infections. These can lead to serious problems, including bacterial infections of the blood (sepsis).

In addition to treating your infection, it's important to treat your home. This includes using special detergents to kill mites on clothing and sheets. Failure to do this increases the risk of re-infection.
Fortunately, although disinfecting your home is annoying, it's relatively straightforward.

For More Information About Scabies:

  • Scabies Symptoms
    The scabies rash is hard to miss. It is most frequently found between the fingers, and on the wrists and ankles, but it can appear elsewhere as well.
    Warning: Pictures of Scabies May Offend Some Viewers
  • Diagnosing Scabies
    There are several ways that your doctor can determine if your rash that's making you itch so much is caused by scabies. Most of the time, a doctor can diagnose you just by looking at the rash, but sometimes further testing may be needed.
  • Scabies Treatment
    Scabies are treated with topical pesticides. However, you also need to decontaminate your home.

Did You Know: Scabies is sometimes considered to be a genital ulcer disease. The skin rash it creates may make individuals more susceptible to HIV.

Sources:

CDC Scabies Fact Sheet. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/parasites/scabies/factsht_scabies.htm. Accessed 5/31/07.

Mehta B. A clinico-epidemiological study of ulcerative sexually transmitted diseases with human immunodeficiency virus status. Indian J Sex Transm Dis. 2014 Jan;35(1):59-61. doi: 10.4103/0253-7184.132434.

Thomas J, Peterson GM, Walton SF, Carson CF, Naunton M, Baby KE. Scabies: an ancient global disease with a need for new therapies. BMC Infect Dis. 2015 Jul 1;15:250. doi: 10.1186/s12879-015-0983-z

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