Scabies is an itchy, infectious skin condition caused by a tiny eight-legged mite known by the scientific name Sarcoptes scabiei. The mite itself does not cause extensive damage to the skin, but the presence of the mite and its eggs and feces triggers a localized allergic reaction that causes an itchy, red skin rash in the areas of mite infestation.
How Do You Know if You Have Scabies?
It may take a while for a person to notice that they have a scabies infection. When a person contracts scabies and has a population of Sarcoptes scabiei mites living in their skin, a rash does not occur right away because it takes a few weeks for the immune system to produce an allergic response to the presence of the scabies mite. A person who has scabies for the second time, however, is likely to experience a rash much quicker because the immune system will recognize the antigens on the mite and its eggs.
When the rash does appear on the skin, it becomes very itchy. Unexplained itching during the night is usually the first apparent symptom of a scabies infection. The rash that appears may be red and bumpy in appearance, and may even blister. In some people, little red lines can be found on the skin; these occur where mites have burrowed into the skin. If you have an unexplained itchy rash, check with your doctor, as you may be suffering from a scabies infection.
Treatment for Scabies
The best treatment for scabies is a topical medicine rubbed on the skin designed to kill scabies mites and eggs. These medications, referred to as “scabicides,” are available only as a prescription. The medicines are applied in lotion form to the entire body, except the head in adults. In children, all areas of skin must be covered with the scabicide. If the instructions on the medication are carefully followed, the scabies mites and eggs should be killed off in a short period of time. The itching sensation may persist for a few weeks after treatment, so it may be difficult to tell if the infection has been completely cleared up. After two to four weeks after the first round of treatment, a second round can be begun if symptoms have not been alleviated.
Avoid Spreading the Disease to Others
Because scabies is so contagious, it is important to take steps to avoid transmitting the disease to others if you have been diagnosed with scabies. Members of your household may want to use scabicides to kill any scabies mites that may start to cause symptoms in them. If you have scabies, avoid prolonged physical contact with uninfected individuals until treatment is completed and the infestation is cleared up. Clothing and bedding can be decontaminated either by washing it in hot water or by placing the clothing in a sealed plastic bag for at least three days; this is enough time away from a host organism to kill the scabies mites.