Scabies typically spreads through prolonged, skin-to-skin contact that gives the mites time to crawl from one person to another. Shared personal items, such as bedding or towels, may occasionally be to blame. Scabies can be passed easily between family members or sexual partners. It is not likely to spread through a quick handshake or hug. The scabies mite can’t jump or fly, and it crawls very slowly.
When someone is diagnosed with scabies, anyone who has close physical contact with the person should also be treated. Close contact includes bathing together, sleeping in the same bed, or even holding hands. Doctors usually recommend treating all members of the household, even if symptoms are not present. (Remember, it can take four to six weeks for symptoms to appear.)
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Because the rash is so itchy, sores may result from constant scratching and can become infected. Itching is worse at night and can interfere with sleep.
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Who Needs to Be Treated?
Scabies has nothing to do with poor personal hygiene or dirty surroundings. In truth, anyone can get it. People who are more vulnerable to contracting scabies include:
When a person is infested with scabies for the first time, it can take four to six weeks for the skin to react. The most common symptoms are:
Some scabies patients may be prescribed additional medications such as an antibiotic (if an infection is present) and medications to help control itching, such as a steroid cream and antihistamine.
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Scabies mites can live up to two to three days on the surface of clothes, bedding, or towels. To make sure these mites are killed, wash any sheets and clothing used by the affected person within the past three days. Wash the items in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer or take them to a dry-cleaner. Items that can’t be washed should be placed in a sealed plastic bag for seven days.
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Most people with scabies only carry 10 to 15 mites at any given time, and each mite is less than half a millimeter long. This makes them very difficult to spot. To the naked eye, they may look like tiny black dots on the skin. A microscope can identify mites, eggs, or fecal matter from a skin scraping.
If your skin has red bumps that are mighty itchy, the cause could be a mite. Here’s what to know about the contagious infestation known as scabies and how to recognize it so you or your child can get treated before the itching becomes unbearable.
In its early stages, scabies may be mistaken for other skin conditions because the rash looks similar. This image compares acne, mosquito bites, and scabies. What sets scabies apart is the relentless itch. Itching is usually most severe in children and the elderly.
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Scabies is treated with prescription medications called scabicides, which kill the mites. Permethrin 5% is the most commonly prescribed scabicide. While these medications kill mites quickly, the itching may last for several weeks. Skin usually heals within four weeks.
If you suspect you might have scabies, see a dermatologist promptly. He or she will check for signs of mites and may take a skin scraping from the area and look for mites and their eggs under a microscope.
Once someone has been exposed to scabies, symptoms develop four to eight weeks later. (In someone who’s had scabies before, symptoms may develop in just a few days.) It’s possible to spread scabies to others during the pre-symptomatic stage as well as the symptomatic stage.
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Dogs and cats get scabies, too — better known as mange. However, canine scabies and feline scabies are not caused by the same type of mite that triggers human scabies. You can get mites from handling an infested pet, but these mites can’t reproduce in human skin. This means they usually die off without causing serious symptoms.
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Can Scabies Mites Be Seen?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Delaware Department of Health and Human Services.
The International Foundation for Dermatology.
The Nemours Foundation.
Because scabies is highly contagious, your dermatologist may recommend that members of your household and your sexual partner(s) be treated for scabies as well. You’ll also need to do a thorough cleaning of your home, including vacuuming floors, rugs and all upholstered furniture. (Discard the vacuum bag afterward.) Items such as towels, sheets, blankets and clothing should be washed in hot water and dried on high heat or dry-cleaned. Another option is to seal the items in a plastic bag for at least 72 hours, since mites that aren’t in skin crusts die within a few days without a host.