Scabies is a contagious skin infection that can occur in humans and other mammalian species. Scabies is caused by a small parasitic mite, known as the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, which is nearly invisible to the naked eye. The mite burrows deep into its host's skin, causing serious skin irritation, allergic reactions and overall discomfort. Scabies is most often transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, though it may also be contracted through other means, such as sharing bed mattresses or other infested objects with a person who has a scabies infection. Scabies mites prefer to burrow into skin that is hairless and thin, which allows the easiest access to the host. Scabies is highly contagious and can cause serious distress in one's life if left untreated.
The Scabies Mite
The Scabies mite is a small, almost microscopic eight-legged parasite. They are extremely tiny, measuring in at only a third of a millimeter in length. The scabies mites that infest humans are more often than not female mites; the male mites are even smaller in size. Scabies mites don't have the ability to fly or jump and can't live below temperatures of twenty degrees Celsius. Scabies infestations have sometimes reached epidemic proportions, infecting many people in a small area. This can occur in various settings, including nursing homes, hospitals, care facilities and other areas where many people are in close concentration.
Transmission of Scabies
Scabies transmission occurs via skin-to-skin contact; however, this does not mean that every form of skin contact is susceptible to the transmission of the disease. For example, you are highly unlikely to get scabies simply by shaking hands with a person, sharing clothing or hanging your jacket next to the coat of someone who has a scabies infection. The most common way to contract a scabies infection is through sexual contact, as skin contact is at a maximum during sex, which allows the best chance for the scabies mites to migrate to a new host.
There are other ways to get scabies as well, though they are not as common. Examples include a mother hugging her kids and other forms of prolonged closeness between people. Transmission from a pet such as a cat or dog is possible, but the likeliness of the scabies mites being able to live off of a human host and thrive properly is virtually null, as they are not designed for human contact. A mite infestation in a cat or dog is known as "mange," and these types of mites, if contracted by a human, will only cause a small itching sensation that will normally go away on its own due to the short life span of the mite and the inability of the mite to reproduce on a human host. Scabies mites can only live off of one host for about 24 to 36 hours before they need to move to a new one. This is not necessarily always the case, but most tests have shown that scabies mites have a short residency period on a single host.
Signs and Symptoms of Scabies
The main sign of scabies is a skin rash made up of small red bumps and blisters that spreads over certain parts of the body. The most common places where the scabies rash occurs are on the knees, on the elbows, around the waist, on the webs between fingers, on the sides of the feet, on the area surrounding the nipple, on the wrists and on the genital area. The rash of a scabies infection occurs because of a localized immune response to the bites of the scabies mites that causes skin inflammation and skin damage caused by the mites themselves tunneling through the skin. The skin rash that is characteristic of a scabies infection can be extremely itchy, with the itchiness often noticeably worse during the night. After contracting scabies, however, the skin symptoms may not be apparent for a period of up to two months. Despite the general lack of signs and symptoms of an early scabies infection, it is still possible to spread the disease to another person as this time.
There are several medications on the market for scabies, and curing the disease is not necessarily difficult. You can obtain medications to kill scabies mites from your doctor. These medications are often topical creams which are applied to the infected area of skin to kill the mites.
This repeated use of the cream over the course of about a week is usually enough to fight off the mites, and your skin will return to a more normal state two to three days after the last day of treatment. Consult your doctor for all the possible mite treatments available to you if you suspect that you have contracted a scabies infection.