Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by a tiny burrowing mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. The presence of the mite leads to intense itching in the area of its burrows. The urge to scratch may be especially strong at night.
Scabies is contagious and can spread quickly through close physical contact in a family, child care group, school class, nursing home or prison. Because of the contagious nature of scabies, doctors often recommend treatment for entire families or contact groups.
Scabies signs and symptoms include:
- Itching, often severe and usually worse at night
- Thin, irregular burrow tracks made up of tiny blisters or bumps on your skin
The burrows or tracks typically appear in folds of your skin. Though almost any part of your body may be involved, in adults and older children scabies is most often found:
- Between fingers
- In armpits
- Around your waist
- Along the insides of wrists
- On your inner elbow
- On the soles of your feet
- Around breasts
- Around the male genital area
- On buttocks
- On knees
- On shoulder blades
In infants and young children, common sites of infestation include the:
- Palms of the hands
- Soles of the feet
When to see a doctor
Talk to your doctor if you have signs and symptoms that may indicate scabies.
Many skin conditions, such as dermatitis or eczema, are associated with itching and small bumps on the skin. Your doctor can help determine the exact cause and ensure that you receive proper treatment. Bathing and over-the-counter preparations won’t eliminate scabies.
A more severe form of scabies, called crusted scabies, may affect certain high-risk groups, including:
- People with chronic health conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV or chronic leukemia
- People who are very ill, such as people in hospitals or nursing facilities
- Older people in nursing homes
Crusted scabies, also called Norwegian scabies, tends to be crusty and scaly, and to cover large areas of the body. It’s very contagious and can be hard to treat.
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose scabies, your doctor examines your skin, looking for signs of mites, including the characteristic burrows. When your doctor locates a mite burrow, he or she may take a scraping from that area of your skin to examine under a microscope. The microscopic examination can determine the presence of mites or their eggs.
Treatments and drugs
Medications commonly prescribed for scabies include:
- Permethrin cream, 5 percent
- Lindane lotion.
- Ivermectin .
To prevent re-infestation and to prevent the mites from spreading to other people, take these steps:
- Clean all clothes and linen.
- Starve the mites. Consider placing items you can’t wash in a sealed plastic bag and leaving it in an out-of-the-way place, such as in your garage, for a couple of weeks. Mites die after a few days without food.