Scabies

Scabies Symptoms, Facts, Treatment And Pictures

Contrary to popular belief, scabies do not occur due to an infection, but rather an infestation. The itch mite parasite, sarcoptes scabiei, is the main cause of scabies. These little creatures burrow into your skin causing extreme itching.

Although it is contagious it does not pass in the form of an infection.

What Are Scabies Symptoms?

How do you know if you have a scabies infestation? Since these parasite burrow into your skin you will need to inspect your body closely for signs and symptoms of scabies. The dominant symptom of scabies is itching, very intense itching wherever the infestation has occurred. Many scabies sufferers report that itching is the worse during nighttime hours.

Scabies symptoms also include a skin rash with blisters or tiny red bumps (called papules) over the infested area. You will notice these papules all over your body, but particularly in the webs between your fingers, in armpits, backs of the feet, genitals and the creases of your elbow.

Another symptom of scabies that is a byproduct of the itching is sores or scales from the intense scratching.

Facts

The more you know about the symptoms of scabies, how they are spread and how to treat them, the better prepared you will be to prevent them.

  • The majority of itch mites that lead to scabies infestations are female and they are larger than their male counterparts.
  • Scabies are very contagious, they jump upon direct skin on skin contact.
  • Scabies can be spread indirectly by sharing clothing or towels.
  • Sexual contact is the most common way scabies spread from one person to the next.
  • It may take up to 6 weeks after infection before scabies symptoms appear.
  • Prolonged exposure10 minutes or more—to hot temperatures of 122° F or higher can kill itch mites.
  • Scabies can survive up to 72 hours without a human body.
  • More than 300 million scabies infestations occur each year all over the world, according to the World Health Organization.

What Does Scabies Look Like?

Day 8 (treatment begins)

Day 8 (treatment begins) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 12 (under treatment)

Day 12 (under treatment) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Healed

Healed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The scabies mite is a tiny parasite about 1/3 millimeter long with 8 legs, thus they can only be seen using a magnifying glass. They are so tiny that when they tunnel into the skin you will see small thread-like ridges along the skin.

Photo taken at 100x magnification through a mi...

Photo taken at 100x magnification through a microscope of a scabies mite (Sarcoptes scabiei). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What Is The Main Cause Of Scabies?

The main cause of a scabies infestation is prolonged contact, specifically skin on skin contact. Simple human interaction such as a handshake, hug, clothes hanging close together or being in close proximity will not spread scabies.

Prolonged direct contact is required for scabies to spread because they cannot survive for very long without a body. There are many ways however for this direct skin contact to allow scabies to spread.

How Do You Get Scabies?

The primary method of scabies transmission is sexual contact. Because of the prolonged skin on skin nature of sex, this is the most common way for the infestation to spread from one person to another. However sex is not the only direct contact method of scabies transmission. Members in the same household may also pass the scabies mite by a simple act of sitting skin to skin to watch a movie or eat a meal.

There is however a less direct way in which scabies can be passed from one person to the next. Although scabies are unable to fly or jump—which is why prolonged contact is necessary—they can crawl from one person to the next in just a few moments. This is why large populations such as nursing homes, prisons, daycares, kindergartens and preschools. Schools with older children are less likely to provide the level of direct contact necessary for scabies to spread.

Sharing intimate items such as clothing, underwear, bedding and towels can also cause the spread of a scabies infestation.

Risk Factors

Any person who comes in contact with someone experiencing a scabies infestation is at risk. Skin to skin contact is the only known risk of scabies, however they typically pop up in clusters affecting a particular community as a whole.

It can be very difficult to know if you have a scabies infestation because the symptoms of scabies don’t appear right away. If you have never had scabies then it can take from one month to one and a half months for scabies symptoms to present themselves. This is why preventing scabies can be very difficult to prevent because you can spread them long before any symptoms begin to appear.

If you have experienced a scabies infestation in the past, symptoms will appear within less than a week of infestation.

The other larger risk factors associated with scabies is for individuals with weakened immune systems. People in this population are susceptible to crusted scabies, also known as Norwegian scabies, whereby tens of thousands of mites burrow into the skin.

What Does Scabies Feel Like?

The dominant feeling of scabies is itching, but not itching common with mosquito bites, chicken pox or bed bugs. The key difference between the feel of scabies and other skin infestations is the relentless quality commonly associated with scabies symptoms.

It takes the symptoms of scabies awhile to appear but when they do the itching tends to progress over time, becoming worse particularly at night.

How Is A Scabies Infestation Diagnosed?

If you have noticed any signs or symptoms of scabies, particularly accompanied by incessant itching chances are good that you have a scabies infestation. However you must get a proper scabies diagnosis in order to come up with an effective treatment plan.

Your physician can diagnose you for a scabies infestation by performing a scrape test on your skin. By lightly scraping over an infected area with the side of a scalpel, the skin flakes will be viewed under a microscope and examined for itch mites. It is important to understand that while the mites are responsible for the visible symptoms, there will be far fewer mites present on your body than the number of bumps or blisters present.

Under the microscope the physician will also look for the presence of eggs or mite pellets. Some doctors may diagnose you with scabies without performing this test, just based on the presentation of physical scabies symptoms such as itching.

Treatment

There are many effective scabies treatments you can try to get rid of the mites and alleviate the symptoms. The medications used to treat scabies are known as scabicides.

First and foremost you need to wash all of your towels and bedding in hot water. As a precaution you should also wash the towels and bedding of anyone else in your household. Because itch mites are unable to live away from the human body for long, you don’t need to wash your entire wardrobe. However if you have worn any clothing during the infestation they should all be washed as a precaution.

There are many prescription creams, lotions and ointments used to treat scabies. Creams and lotions can be applied directly to all areas in which bumps or blisters appear. Many of these treatments for scabies may be unsuitable for women who are pregnant or nursing, children or those with a compromised immune system.

If you got scabies due to a sexual encounter it is crucial that you inform all sexual partners you had in the 4 to 6 weeks prior to the appearance of scabies symptoms. This will allow them to begin treatment immediately and prevent passing it on to others.

If you share a home with others you should all begin your scabies treatment at the time, regardless of the presentation of symptoms. This will prevent those who haven’t been infested from being infested while treating those who may have been infested but don’t yet present with any symptoms of scabies.

It can take up to several days or weeks in order for a scabies treatment to start working. If your treatment does not work, the scabies diagnosis must be re-evaluated.

Complications

The biggest complication of scabies has to do, again, with the constant itching. Because the incessant itching lasts over a prolonged period, the skin can be broken which can lead to a number of different infections. In particular you may be susceptible to a bacterial infection, particularly if you come into contact with any substances that can cause infections.

It is important that you immediately purchase an over the counter scabies treatment specifically for itching. To alleviate this itching and prevent infection you should keep your hands clean and reapply anti-itch cream or ointment as much as instructions allow.

Prevention

The only way to prevent a scabies infestation is to avoid close direct contact with any and all persons infested with scabies. This is quite a difficult task to achieve during the all important 4 to 6 weeks when there are no symptoms of scabies present.

You can avoid spreading scabies by undergoing a treatment plan as soon as you receive a diagnosis. This will prevent the infestation from worsening, particularly spreading throughout the body.

Individuals in institutional settings such as prisons, nursing homes and daycares should be checked regularly as they may not exhibit extreme symptoms or may be unable to verbalize their symptoms.

Written By Kayla Harris

Dr. Harris is a dermatologist certified by the American Boards of Dermatology and Pediatrics. She has also received a certification in the sub-specialty of Pediatric Dermatology. Dr. Harris received an undergraduate degree biology from the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Harris earned her Medical Degree at the University Missouri. Dr. Harris completed her pediatric residency at the Children’s Hospital at the University of Colorado where she also completed her residency in dermatology just one year later.

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