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Scabies is a common skin condition. People get scabies when a mite burrows into the top layer of their skin. This eight-legged bug is so small that you cannot see it on the skin. When your skin reacts to the mite, a very itchy rash develops.
Scabies is contagious. People get the mites on their skin through direct skin-to-skin contact. The longer the skin-to-skin contact, the more likely you are to have mites transferred to you from someone who is infected. A quick handshake or brief hug usually does not spread mites. Adults often get scabies through sexual contact.
It also is possible to pick up the mites by sharing a towel, bedding, or clothing with someone who has scabies, but this is much less common.
Anyone can get scabies. It infects people of all ages, races, and income levels. Even people who are very clean and neat can get scabies.
Some people have a higher risk of getting scabies. Because the following people have frequent skin-to-skin contact with others or a weak immune system, they have a greater risk:
Scabies among people in nursing homes and extended-care facilities is a common problem. The residents need help with daily activities, so there is frequent skin-to-skin contact with staff. Scabies can spread to staff and then to other residents. People often do not know they have scabies for weeks. By then, many people may have been exposed and could have mites burrowing in their skin.
Common signs and symptoms are:
A person who has never had scabies may not develop signs and symptoms for two to six weeks. If a person has had scabies in the past, the itching usually begins within one to four days of contact.
The most common places on the body to find the scabies mites are:
In children, scabies can affect the entire body, including the palms, soles, and scalp. Children, including babies, who have scabies, may be tired and irritable from lack of sleep. Scratching at night can keep them awake. Unlike adults, children often get blisters from a scabies infection.
Crusted scabies (Norwegian scabies)
Some people get a severe form of scabies. People who get crusted, or Norwegian, scabies have hundreds to thousands of mites in their skin. By contrast, most people who get scabies have 10 to 15 mites burrowing in their skin.
Crusted scabies occurs mostly among people who have weakened immune systems, including HIV disease. Crusted scabies is very contagious.
When people get crusted scabies, they have thick crusts on their skin. These crusts often cover large areas of the body. It also is possible to have crusted scabies only on certain areas of the body, such as the hands and feet or genitalia. The thick crusts tend to crumble easily when touched and look gray in color.
To find out if you have scabies, your dermatologist will examine you from head to toe. Your dermatologist may scrape off a tiny bit of skin, put the scrapings on a glass slide, and look at it under a microscope. If your dermatologist sees mites or their eggs, you have scabies.
If you have scabies, treatment is essential. Treatment should begin as soon as you know you have scabies. Treatment will relieve itching and also prevent you from spreading scabies to others.
Everyone with whom you have close contact should receive treatment at the same time. This includes:
To get rid of scabies, even people who do not have any symptoms should receive treatment. People often pass scabies to others before they know they have it.
Medicine that treats scabies is only available with a doctor’s prescription. Most medicines are applied to the skin. Common medicines are:
If your dermatologist prescribes one of the above medicines, you will likely apply it before bedtime. The same treatment will be repeated in exactly one week to treat any additional mites. Be sure to use the medicine exactly as directed. This will include taking a bath or shower before applying medicine to your skin.
There is also a medicine taken by mouth, called ivermectin. While not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat scabies, it is recommended for infections caused by parasites. Your dermatologist will instruct you if you should take this medicine and how often.
Some people need additional treatment. Your dermatologist may prescribe the following:
Scabies on a child’s hand
Tips for Managing Scabies
who has scabies so you can start treatment.
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in treating the medical, surgical and cosmetic conditions of the skin, hair and nails. To learn more about scabies, visit aad.org or call toll free (888) 462-DERM (3376) to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area.
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
American Academy of Dermatology
P.O. Box 1968, Des Plaines, Illinois 60017
AAD Public Information Center: 888.462.DERM (3376) AAD Member Resource Center: 866.503.SKIN (7546) Outside the United States: 847.240.1280
Email: [email protected]
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