Scabies is a common skin condition caused by the human itch mite. People get scabies when the mite burrows into the top layer of their skin to live and feed. When the skin reacts to the mite – which is so small that you would need a microscope to see it – an extremely itchy rash develops.
“Most people get scabies from direct skin-to-skin contact, although it’s possible to get scabies from infested bedding, clothes and furniture,” said board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Since scabies is contagious, it tends to spread easily among children, mothers with young children, and residents of nursing homes and extended care facilities.”
According to dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology, common signs and symptoms of scabies include:
- Intense itching, which can occur constantly during the day and keep you up at night.
- A rash that causes little bumps to form, often in a line; the bumps can look like hives, tiny bites, knots under the skin or pimples.
- Sores, which are caused by scratching and can sometimes get infected.
- Thick crusts on the skin, which form when a person develops a severe type of scabies called crusted scabies.
“Scabies can develop anywhere on the skin; however, the mites prefer to burrow in certain parts of the body,” said Dr. Zeichner. “The most common places to have symptoms are the hands, arms and any skin covered by clothing or jewelry, such as the wrist, belt line and groin.”
If you suspect you have scabies, Dr. Zeichner recommends the following tips:
- See a board-certified dermatologist. Some people do not seek medical help because they are embarrassed. However, people who are very clean and neat can get scabies, and people of all ages, races and income levels get scabies.
- Notify those around you. Scabies is very contagious, and it can take two to six weeks for symptoms to appear. If you get treatment, the people with whom you live or have close contact also need treatment. Otherwise, they can get the mites, and you can get them again.
- The day you start treatment, wash all bedding, clothes and towels, and dry everything in a hot dryer. Mites can survive for about three to four days without being on a human. If a mite survives, you can get scabies again. To prevent this, wash anything that you or the people you live with touched in the last four to six weeks. Use the hottest water possible, and dry everything on high heat. If you cannot wash something in a washing machine, take it to a dry cleaner or seal it in a plastic bag for at least one week.
- The day you start treatment, vacuum your entire home. Vacuum carpeting, area rugs and all upholstered furniture. Afterwards, throw away the vacuum bag or empty and wash the canister with hot, soapy water.
- Do not treat your pets. The human itch mite cannot survive on animals, so pets do not need treatment.
“Medicine to effectively treat scabies is only available with a doctor’s prescription,” said Dr. Zeichner. “If you notice symptoms or are told that you have been around someone who has scabies, see a board-certified dermatologist for treatment.”