Scabies is a skin condition that’s caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. This mite burrows into the skin to live and lay its eggs. This then causes a reaction in the skin, causing intense itching and a rash. Scabies is a common condition and anyone can get it.
Scabies is highly contagious, and is usually caught through skin contact or sharing towels, bedding or clothes with an infected person. The symptoms of a scabies rash can take up to 8 weeks to appear – which means it’s easy to pass scabies on without knowing.
Because of its contagious nature, scabies is easily spread within households. It’s also found frequently in facilities where many people live in close proximity – like nursing homes, prisons, university halls, overcrowded accommodation and often in childcare settings.
You cannot catch scabies from pets or animals.
- Intense itching
- A widespread, pimple-like rash
- Small ‘burrows’ (raised, often crooked, skin-coloured lines on the skin – caused by the mite burrowing into the skin)
The scabies rash can affect the whole body (although rarely the head). The most commonly affected areas are the web spaces between the fingers, the wrist, elbow, armpit and groin. The burrows are also most often found in-between the fingers.
Even when successfully treated, the itch caused by scabies can continue for several weeks.
Scabies is effectively treated with an insecticide cream or lotion, which you can buy from a pharmacy or get prescribed by a GP. Apply the scabies treatment over the whole body and leave on for 8-24 hours (though this time depends on the type of cream used). You usually need two applications, spaced a week apart.
It’s important to treat all members of the same household at the same time, to effectively kill the mites and stop family members being reinfected.
You should also:
- Wash all bed linen, towels and clothes in the house at >50C to kill any mites
- Put any clothes and materials that cannot be washed into a sealed bag for 3 days (which is how long it takes mites to die if they’re not on a person)
- Contact any sexual partners you’ve had within the last 8 weeks to make sure they undergo treatment too
- Keep children away from school
- Avoid close contact with other people until 24 hours after the first treatment
- Try to avoid scratching (putting gloves on children can help) as traumatising the skin through scratching can cause infection
- Avoid sex and physical close contact until you’ve completed the scabies treatment
- If you’ve used two applications of an insecticide spaced a week apart, and still have symptoms several weeks after the second dose (keep in mind, it can take two weeks for the itching to go away after successful treatment)
- If you have signs of the scabies rash being infected (red, hot, swollen skin or discharge)
- If you have a suppressed immune system
- If you develop thick, crusted patches of skin.