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Lice, Scabies, and Your Skin

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Scabies

Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by a microscopic mite called Sarcoptes scabei. The mite burrows into the skin. Within several weeks of the time the mite burrows, an allergic reaction occurs and severe itching begins.

The condition can affect people of any social class and everyone is susceptible. However, scabies occurs more often in situations involving crowded living conditions with poor hygiene.

How Does a Person Get Scabies?

In most cases, scabies develops after close, prolonged contact with another person. Scabies can easily be spread between sexual partners and household members. Scabies-causing mites can be scratched off the skin and can cause an infestation in another person. Infestation may also occur by sharing clothing, towels, and bedding -- mites can live in bedding for up to 24 hours or more.

What Are the Symptoms of Scabies?

The primary symptom of scabies is severe itching, which often is so bad that it keeps people awake at night. The itching is caused as the female mite burrows into the skin, lays eggs, and produces toxins that cause allergic reactions. Small red bumps (resembling tiny bites or pimples) can form on the skin.

The most common areas for scabies to develop on the body are warmer sites such as skin folds, areas where clothing is tight (such as the belt line or buttocks), on the penis, and around the nipples.

Excessive scratching may lead to bacterial infections of the skin in people who have scabies.

How Is Scabies Diagnosed?

A doctor can look at the rash on your skin to determine whether you have scabies. A skin scraping may be taken to look for mites, eggs, or mite fecal matter to confirm the diagnosis.

How Is Scabies Treated?

Scabies is treated with a lotion that is applied to a clean body from the neck down to the toes. The lotion is left on overnight (8 hours) and then is washed off. The person with scabies should put on clean clothes. All clothing, bedding, and towels used by the person in the preceding 24 hours should be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer. Seven to 10 days after the first treatment, a second treatment of the body with the same lotion is usually given. Medication may be prescribed to relieve itching. Although itching may continue for two to three weeks, the itching does not mean that the infestation is still active. About 24-48 hours after effective treatment, no new burrows or rashes should appear.

Another option is a pill, ivermectin, which is as effective as the creams in eliminating the infestation without the mess. The medication is given twice over a week to 10-day period.

Anyone who is diagnosed with scabies should be treated. In addition, that person's sexual partners of the past month and those persons who have close, prolonged contact to the infested person should also be treated. If all family members need to be treated, everyone should receive treatment at the same time to prevent reinfestation.

 

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Norman Levine, MD on October 17, 2012
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