Scabies – What is it?
Typified by intense itching and general discomfort, as well as a reddening and irritation of the epidermal layers of skin, scabies is a skin disease which is caused by a parasitic infestation of mites known as Sarcoptes Scabiei, better known as itch mites. Although found in humans, scabies can also occur in felines, canines, great apes and other mammalian species, although cases of scabies in animals often result in a separate skin disorder known as mange.
Some avian species are also susceptible to the Sarcoptes Scabiei infection, although it usually needs to be transmitted from elsewhere for scabies to actually infect any avian animal. Scabies, the itch and rash, are the skin’s normal reaction to the presence of parasites. These parasites burrow into the epidermal layers of the skin to deposit their eggs. Itching and rash are natural autoimmune responses to the uncomfortable movement caused by the parasites that are lodged within the skin.
Also known as the ‘seven-year-itch’ for its highly uncomfortable symptoms, scabies can worsen if left untreated. They can damage the skin by causing light to moderate epidermal bleeding due to uncontrolled and repeated scratching by the host. Individuals who have a weak immune system such as those who are suffering from HIV or individuals who are on immunosuppresants have a very high risk for developing severe kinds of scabies known as crusted scabies. This is a very uncomfortable and often painful form of scabies wherein the skin becomes a thick scaly crust that can harbor thousands of scabies in every fold, nook and cranny.
The Life Cycle of Scabies
The life cycle of scabies is a relatively short one, similar to that of lice, ticks and fleas. The average Sarcoptes scabiei lifespan lasts some four to six weeks. On average, a female itch mite will burrow into the epidermal layers of skin within about 30 minutes, in order to look for a mate to copulate with, after which she will lay some 40 to 50 eggs within the epidermal folds. After 3-4 days, these eggs will hatch and escape through either the burrow dug by their parents or they will dig burrows of their own, which they will use to molt and reproduce.
The process of burrowing and resurfacing is repeated subsequently for some couple of days or more until a final burrow transforms them into adults, upon which time the breeding and burrowing action begins anew. Full development of itch mites takes only around 10 – 15 days, with a 10% chance of the laid eggs developing into full-fledged adults. Because of their extremely fast breeding cycle and large numbers, if left unchecked, scabies can literally decimate skin and turn a person into a walking itch-machine.
Control and Treatment of Scabies
Severe cases of scabies infestation may be alleviated, at least with regards to itching, by either oral or topical antihistamines, but Permethrin is by far the most effective medication used for the treatment of scabies. A single application is usually enough for mild scabies infections, although a dual application during and after infestation may be opted for in highly severe cases. Homeopathic relief from scabies can involve the use of sulfur. A 10% solution of sulfur or an ointment of the mineral applied weekly over the affected areas has proven useful in the treatment of scabies. Although with a one to two week proofing period, it does take a while for it to work.
Another method for eliminating scabies is the use of egg oil, oil derived from the yolk of an egg, along with a mixture of tea tree or lavender oil and castor oil. This is applied all throughout the skin to moisturize it to relieve irritation and to suffocate the scabies. This practice was common during ancient times, especially in Andalusia, and are still used today in developing countries.