Scabies mites are parasites that live off of human blood. These mites cause the skin condition known as scabies. This skin disease is highly contagious, and it can affect people of all ages. It occurs worldwide and is common in babies and the elderly. There are various symptoms associated with scabies, and a vast range of treatment options is available to those suffering from the condition.
Description of a Scabies Mite
The scabies mite is a small parasite measuring approximately 1/3 of a millimeter in length. The mites cannot jump or fly, so they crawl under the skin to feed. Mites also lay eggs underneath the skin’s surface. The parasites become immobile at temperatures lower than 20 degrees Celsius, however, they can survive for awhile at low temperatures. The mites can also live without a human host for up to 36 hours.
The symptoms of a scabies infestation may take up to two months to appear. As the mites burrow underneath the skin, long and thin red, gray or brown lines may appear on the skin surface. A rash made up of small bumps may also develop in affected areas. These bumps can crust over or turn into blisters.
As the rash accelerates, itching may occur. Irritation gradually increases in intensity and eventually becomes relentless. The itching typically worsens at night. Scabies is most often noticeable on the head, neck, hands and feet. Generally, infants and young children are more affected in these areas than adults. Other commonly affected areas include the buttocks, the backs of knees and elbows, the genitals and in between the fingers.
How the Scabies Mites Spread
Skin to skin contact is most often the cause of a scabies infection. The mites can only live off a human host for 36 hours. This makes it more difficult to spread scabies by sharing linens or clothing. Transferring the mites typically requires close contact. Sexual interaction with an infected person can spread the mites as well. Additionally, scabies is contagious even if there are no symptoms present.
Ways to Treat Scabies
Once a scabies mite infection begins, treatment is necessary to kill the mites and their eggs. If you have been affected by this skin disease, you should start treatment immediately. Prescription strength lotions or creams such as Permethrin and Lindane are commonly used in treating scabies. If these lotions aren’t strong enough, you may need to take an oral medication like Ivermectin.
To relieve the itching and irritation of scabies, you can take oral antihistamines or apply topical steroid creams to the affected areas. Soaking the skin with a cool, damp cloth can also provide relief. It generally takes up to three days for any treatment to work. Within a few days, the itching should lessen, but it can take several weeks for the mites to die and itching to stop altogether.
Preventing a Recurrence
There are steps you can take to prevent the mites from coming back. Avoid scratching the affected areas, and limit close contact with others. Clean your clothing and linens in hot water. Seal items that cannot be washed into airtight bags for at least seven days. Scabies mites are uncomfortable, but they can be treated. If you think you have scabies, consider seeking the advice of a health care professional.