Scabies spreads through direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact or through the sharing of towels, bedding, or clothing. The infestation produces pimplelike bumps or a rash in skin folds near the breasts and on wrists, elbows, knees, shoulder blades, the penis, and the areas between the fingers.
A case of scabies can cause intense itching that can be unbearable at night, and scratching can lead to sores that sometimes become infected with bacteria. Prescription lotions will successfully treat scabies, but itching (in part due to an allergy to the mite, alive or dead) might continue for as long as three weeks.
An infestation of a microscopic mite known as Sarcoptes scabiei that burrows in the skin causes scabies. Most cases of scabies are due to the presence of just a few (perhaps ten to 15) mites.
Who's at Risk?
Scabies affects people of all ages and socioeconomic levels, but it spreads primarily in crowded conditions where people have ongoing skin-to-skin contact. People in child-care facilities, nursing homes, and hospitals, for example, are at increased risk.
In addition, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems may contract a severe form of scabies, called Norwegian scabies or crusted scabies, which is an infestation with thousands of mites and is much more easily transmitted to others.
Preventing scabies is as simple as avoiding close body contact with others who are infested. Another good rule of thumb is to avoid sharing clothing, bed linens, or towels. If in doubt, wash clothes and linens in hot water and dry them on high heat, or press them with a hot iron to kill the mites and their eggs. Wash surfaces such as tables, chairs, and floors, and vacuum all rugs. It's also a good idea to put bedding and stuffed animals in airtight plastic bags for more than 72 hours to starve the little buggers to death. According to findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, mites do not survive more than three days once away from the human body.
Read next about another blood-sucking parasite called ticks, which are found in every state but are most common in New England, parts of the Midwest, and northern California.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.