Scabies Slideshow: Symptoms, Cause, and Treatments

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:

Scabies will not go away on its own. It can only be cured with prescription medications that kill the mites. Treatment is a cream or lotion that is applied to the entire body from the neck down in most cases. It is left on for 8 to 14 hours and then washed off. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe pills to treat scabies. Treatment takes up to three days, depending on the medication used.

Scabies medications can kill the mites and eggs quickly, and patients can usually return to school or work 24 hours after starting treatment. However, the itch may persist for a few weeks. This is the result of an ongoing allergic reaction in the skin. If the itching continues for more than four weeks or a new rash appears, see your doctor. It may be necessary to reapply scabies medication.

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Scabies Symptoms

Long-term care facilities, including nursing homes and homes for the developmentally disabled, are also prone to scabies outbreaks. Because caregivers assist residents with bathing and dressing, skin-to-skin contact is common. The CDC recommends all new long-term care patients and staff be screened for scabies.

Scabies mites can live anywhere on the body, but some of their favorite spots include:

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Scabies or Something Else?

Also called Norwegian scabies, crusted scabies is a very severe infestation involving tens of thousands of mites on a single person. This causes the skin to develop thick crusts full of mites and eggs. Crusted scabies is most common in people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and people who are disabled. This type of scabies is highly contagious and requires swift treatment to prevent outbreaks.

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.

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Scabies Burrows

In most cases, a doctor can identify scabies based on the appearance of the rash and your description of the itch. Sometimes a skin scraping is used to confirm the diagnosis. This involves collecting skin from the affected area and using a microscope to check the sample for mites, eggs, or fecal matter.

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.

Scabies Slideshow: Symptoms, Cause, and Treatments

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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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How Does Scabies Spread?

While prescriptions can kill scabies mites and their eggs, they don’t provide any immediate itch relief. To control itching, especially at night, antihistamine pills can help. Hydrocortisone cream may also help, but it can change the appearance of the scabies rash, making the condition harder to diagnose. It’s best to use this cream only after your doctor has confirmed the diagnosis.

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