Scabies is an infestation of the skin by small, microscopic mites called Sarcoptes scabei. Scabies is prevalent in all parts of the world and can affect people of all ages, races, socio-economic status, and gender. The mites burrow under and into the skin, laying eggs and multiplying quickly.

Scabies is spread by prolonged and frequent skin-to-skin contact and can multiply quickly in congested and crowded conditions. Places that can be subject to the quick spreading of Scabies are: schools, day-cares, hospitals, etc.

One can also contract Scabies from sexual intercourse, as prolonged skin-to-skin contact occurs during sexual activity. Furthermore, members living in the same household can transmit Scabies to each other by sharing bedding, towels and clothing.

Scabies can affect any area of the body and is usually characterized by relentless itching that becomes worse during the nighttime. However, the areas that seem to be most affected are: webbing between fingers, the wrists, elbows, knees, penis, breasts, and shoulder blades. These areas are not only subject to intense itching, but small pimples form on these parts of the body.

There is also concern that pets can transmit Scabies to their owners or people around the pet. This is untrue, while pets do become infected with Scabies, it is a different type of mite. If the mite does get under the skin, it does not reproduce and dies within a day or two. Until the pet has been successfully treated for Scabies the likelihood of the mites attacking your skin is high, although not producing an infestation of any kind. The mites will just cause itching symptoms.

History of Scabies

Scabies have been infesting human beings for over 2.500 years. In fact, archeological evidence has shown that the ancient Egyptians used to draw humans being infected with scabies. After the 17th century, Scabies was officially known as its own infection, not to be confused with other humoral diseases.

In 1687 there were two gentlemen, Giovan Cosimo Bonomo and Diacinto Cestoni that collaborated in the first drawing of the Scabies mite.

Symptoms of Scabies

Scabies is characterized by severe and intense itching. The itching is usually so extreme that people are kept up all night suffering.

If an individual has not had Scabies before, it can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks for symptoms to emerge. If an individual has had Scabies before, they are not immune, and symptoms show up much faster within several days.

Bumps and similar raised irritations can show up on the webbing of the fingers or the wrists.

However, itching can occur all over the body. The sensation is reported to be more extreme at nighttime and therefore most of the damage to the skin happens during this period. The damage consists of sores on the body from itching too intensely and deeply. The sores are typically broken, leading to occasional bacterial infections. Skin rashes can also occur on a person infected with Scabies.

Diagnosing Scabies

A diagnosis for Scabies can be made by looking at the skin sores or skin rashes caused by itching and infestation. Mites, their eggs or fecal matter can be searched for in a skin sample. However, because no more than 10 or so mites are on the body of an infected person, it makes proper diagnosis very difficult.

Also, even if a skin scraping or biopsy test returns a negative result, it is a possibility that the individual is still infested.

Treatment for Scabies

Scabies can be treated by several prescription lotions. It is important to follow the treatment course and advice very carefully to completely rid the body of the Scabies infestation.
Lotion should be applied all over the body, from head to toe and not washed off until 8 hours later. After washed off, clean linen and bed sheets and towels should be used. An infected person should wash their sheets and towels in hot water before and after each use.

After several more days, the lotion may be reapplied for a second treatment. Women who are pregnant can ask for a gentle version of the lotion so as to not bring any harm to the unborn child.

Sores and rashes should not appear after one to two days after treatment. Itching, however, can last up to 3 weeks after treatment. If the scratching does not stop, extra medication can be administered to relive those symptoms.

In addition to washing sheets and towels, all clothing should be washed in hot water. If there are articles of clothing that cannot be washed, storing them in an airtight plastic bag for several days will kill the mites. Also make sure to vacuum all furniture, rugs, and other textiles that the mites may be attracted to.

What Happens if Scabies Goes Untreated?

If Scabies go untreated it can cause permanent scarring of the skin from itching. The rashes and sores will not go away and the ability to infect other people is still present. Due to the severe nature of the symptoms, people get treated right away as the itching can be somewhat unbearable.

It is recommended that all members of a household/family get treated for scabies if one member has been infected. Failing to do so can result in re-infection. Skin inflammation can also occur as a result of non-treatment.

Preventing Scabies

There is not a 100% effective means of preventing Scabies, especially with young children who are exposed to other children at schools and day-cares. A good way to prevent a Scabies infestation is to avoid crowded places. Practicing good hygiene can help, although personal cleanliness has nothing to do with becoming infested. Another way to prevent getting Scabies is to avoid sexual contact as the genital region is the perfect place for Scabies mites to hide. Sexual intercourse is a frequent way to acquire Scabies.

Who is at Risk for Contracting Scabies?

The following list includes those people that are at a higher risk of contracting Scabies:

  • People with new sexual partners
  • People with more than 2 partners
  • People not using any method of protection
  • People living in crowded areas
  • People working in crowded areas
  • Individuals at nursing homes
  • Elderly people with low immune systems
  • Children at school or day-care
  • Hospital workers who are exposed to many people during their shift(s)

Statistics about Scabies

  • 1 million new cases are reported each year in America
  • 7 percent of people infected with Scabies get brownish-reddish skin rashes
  • Scabies outbreaks can occur in a community every 7 years (“seven year itch”)
  • Eggs mature into adult mites in 3 weeks
  • Scabies mites can live in bedding for up to 24 hours where the mites have gone under the skin
  • Scabies have been on the rise in the United States since 1973
  • Only 25 percent of infected individuals can be diagnosed with specific burrow lines”
  • A person infected with Scabies may have 10 to 12 mites on his person at one time

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