Feeling a little itchy lately? Have you noticed odd, red marks over your hands, elbows, or thighs? If so, then you might be infected with scabies, a common skin infection caused by microscopic parasites known as mites. These mites burrow underneath the surface of the skin, laying eggs and causing intense itching and red blisters and bumps. Scabies is very common worldwide, and is on the rise in the United States. In fact, scabies outbreaks are quite frequent in shared living facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes, and dormitories. However, effective scabies treatment is available to help reduce your symptoms.
How Do You Get Scabies?
Scabies is usually contracted after prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Quick contact with a person who has scabies (such as a hug or a handshake) is usually not sufficient to cause infection. Instead, contact such as that between sexual partner or roommates can lead to scabies infection. Contact with infected items including towels, bedding, and clothing can also lead to infection.
Who's At Risk For Scabies?
Anyone can become infected with scabies, regardless of where they live or their ethnic or cultural background. Scabies is more common in those living in crowded conditions or in those who have regular contact with infants or children.
Symptoms of Scabies
Scabies symptoms usually appear within four to six weeks of initial infection. However, symptoms tend to occur sooner in those who have experienced prior infection; in these cases, symptoms can appear within a few days. Scabies symptoms include:
- intense itching, especially at night
- burrow marks and blisters where the mites have crawled under the skin
- a red, scabies rash over the skin
Treatment for Scabies
If you think that you may have scabies, it is important to seek treatment from your health care provider. Without scabies treatments, the mites will continue to lay eggs and the scabies cycle will continue. Excessive itching can also lead to skin infections, such as impetigo.
Treatment generally involves applying a medicated lotion to your entire body. This lotion should be applied from the neck downwards, paying special attention to skin folds around the wrist, knees, and elbows, and to the webbing between the fingers. This lotion should be left on for eight hours. After eight hours, the lotion can be washed off. Itching may continue for two to three weeks, however, burrow marks and blisters should begin to disappear within a day or so.
You should also take steps to rid your possessions and home of the scabies mites. Be sure to:
- wash your towels, bedding, and clothing in hot water.
- vacuum your rugs and furniture and throw away the vacuum bag.
- place any items that cannot be washed in a sealed plastic bag for several days, to help kill the mites.