Commonly called the “itch mite,” scabies is caused by a tiny insect named Scaroptes scabies. The pregnant female mite burrows under the skin and deposits her eggs. Experts believe the intense itching is caused by the development of an allergic reaction to the waste material of the burrowing, feeding and egg-laying female mites.
What are the signs and symptoms of scabies infestation?
- Pimple-like irritations, burrows or rash on the skin, especially the webbing between the fingers; the skin folds on the wrist, elbow or knee, the penis, the breast or shoulder blades.
- Intense itching, especially at night and over most of the body.
- Sores on the body caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected with bacteria.
How is scabies transmitted?
Scabies is not an indication of bad hygiene or nutritional deficiency. It is transmitted by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person already infested with scabies. (A quick handshake or hug will usually not spread infestation.) Sexual partners, family members, schoolmates, teammates, and roommates are likely candidates for infection. Infestation may also occur by sharing contaminated clothing, towels and bedding.
How long after exposure will symptoms begin?
For a person who has never been infested with scabies, symptoms may take 4-6 weeks to begin. For a person who has had scabies, symptoms appear within several days. You do not become immune to an infestation.
How is scabies diagnosed?
Diagnosis is most commonly made by looking at the burrows or rash. A skin scraping may be taken followed by microscopic identification. They will look for mites, eggs or mite fecal matter to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Scabies
Currently the most effective treatments are Permethrin 5% Cream (Elimite or Acticin) or Lindane 1%. Always follow the directions provided by your physician or the directions on the package insert. Apply the lotion to a clean body from the neck down to the toes and leave the lotion on overnight (8 hours). After 8 hours, take a bath or shower to wash off the lotion. Put on clean clothes. Itching may take several days or even weeks to resolve completely after effective treatment. No new burrows or rashes should appear 24-48 hours after effective treatment. Antihistamines (Benadryl/diphenhydramine or Zyrtec/cetirizine) and cortisone cream may help reduce itching. Additionally any clothing or bed linens used in the past 4-5 days should be washed and dried using hot cycles, dry-cleaned, or placed in a sealed, plastic bag for 3 days.
Who should be treated?
Anyone who is diagnosed, as well as his or her sexual partners and persons who have close, prolonged contact with the infested person should also be treated.
For more information, see the CDC web site at: www.cdc.gov