What is scabies?
Scabies is an infestation in the skin of mites. It causes small,
red bumps and severe itching. Scabies is very contagious. It is spread by direct
skin contact. It is easily spread by:
What causes scabies?
Scabies mites burrow under the skin. They don’t jump or fly. They
lay eggs in the skin. The eggs hatch and grow into adults. They then create new
burrows over the next 1 to 2 weeks. The mites die in about 4 to 6 weeks. The rash
and itching are caused by an allergic reaction to the mites’ saliva or feces.
Scabies mites are very contagious. They often spread from person
to person while they are sleeping in the same bed, or during other close contact.
Scabies should be treated quickly to keep the mites from spreading.
Who is at risk for scabies?
Scabies can affect people of all ages and social groups. It is
common all over the world. Scabies happens mostly in children and young adults. It’s
also more likely if you live in close quarters with other people, such as in a
college dormitory or nursing home.
You are more at risk if you are in contact with someone who has
scabies for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Scabies mites can pass from person to person
through close physical contact. They can also be passed through shared clothing,
towels, and bedding.
What are the symptoms of scabies?
It may take 2 to 6 weeks to develop symptoms of scabies after
contact with an infected person. If you have had scabies before, the rash can appear
in 1 to 4 days.
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person. They can
Itching, usually severe and worse at night
Rash with small pimples or red bumps
Tiny lines on the skin surface, which are the mites’
Sores on the body caused by scratching
Scaly or crusty skin in severe cases
In adults, the rash appears on the hands, between the fingers,
wrists, belt line, thighs, belly button, in the groin area, around the breasts, and
in the armpits.
The symptoms of scabies can be like other health conditions. Make
sure to see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is scabies diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and health
history. He or she will give you a physical exam. The physical exam will include
closely checking your skin. You may also a skin scraping. The provider scrapes a
small sample of your skin and looks at it with a microscope to check for mites. You
may also need a punch biopsy. This test takes a small sample of skin to look at with
How is scabies treated?
Everyone living in your house and all sexual partners should be
treated at the same time. After the first treatment, you will no longer be
contagious. You may return to work or school.
Scabies infection is most often treated with a prescription cream
or lotion that has 5% permethrin. This kills the mites. When using prescription
lotion or cream:
Follow instructions from your healthcare provider and
pharmacist. Ask about safety steps for using this medicine.
Use the cream or lotion on your body when your skin is cool
and dry. Don’t use it after a hot shower or bath.
Apply the cream or lotion to your entire body from the chin
down. This includes the neck, palms of your hands, soles of your feet, groin,
and under your fingernails.
Don’t use more than prescribed.
Leave the cream or lotion on for the advised amount of time.
This is usually 8 to 14 hours. Don’t leave it on your skin longer than directed.
Wear only clean clothes after the treatment.
Reapply the cream or lotion to your hands after you wash
If you are breastfeeding, wash off your nipples before
feeding. Then reapply the cream or lotion after breastfeeding.
If advised, repeat the application of cream or lotion 1 week
Other treatments include:
Ivermectin. This is an
oral medicine for severe cases. It may also be used if you can’t apply cream or
lotion. This can be used before other treatments, but it usually costs more than
skin cream medicines.
Itching may cause the most discomfort. If large areas of your skin are affected,
over-the-counter antihistamines may be used to reduce itching. Or you may be
given a prescription antihistamine.
Antibiotics. This medicine
may be used to treat infected sores from scratching. It is important to finish
taking all of the antibiotics even if the sores look better. This is to make
sure the infection has fully gone away.
Medicines work quickly to kill the mites, but the itchy rash
may last for several weeks after treatment. Marks on the skin from scabies
usually go away in 1 to 2 weeks, but sometimes take a few months to go
Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and
possible side effects of all treatments.
What are possible complications of scabies?
Scratching the rash can cause sores, which may become infected
Can scabies be prevented?
To prevent reinfection and the spread of scabies to others:
Machine wash in hot water all sheets, towels, pillowcases,
underwear, pajamas, and clothing.
Dry them in the hot cycle of a dryer.
Seal anything that is hard to wash in a plastic bag for 1
week. This includes coats, jackets, blankets, and bedspreads, pillows, and soft
Vacuum floors and furniture. Throw the vacuum bag away
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call the healthcare provider if you have:
New rashes or lines in the skin after treatment
Sores that do not heal
Signs of infection in sores, such as crusts, fluid leaking,
swelling, pain, or red streaks
Fever of 100.4°F (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your
Key points about scabies
Scabies is an infestation in the skin of tiny insects called
mites. It causes small, red bumps and severe itching.
Scabies mites are very contagious. They often spread from
person to person while they are sleeping in the same bed, or during other close
contact. Scabies should be treated quickly to keep the mites from
It may take 2 to 6 weeks to develop symptoms of scabies
after contact with an infected person. If you have had scabies before, the rash
can appear in 1 to 4 days.
Everyone living in your house and all sexual partners should
be treated at the same time.
Scabies infection is most often treated with a prescription
cream or lotion that kills the mites. The itchy rash may last for several weeks
To prevent reinfection and the spread of scabies to others,
make sure to wash in hot water all bedding, clothing, pillows, and soft toys.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have