What Are Scabies? How Do You Know If You Have Them?

Scabies -- or human itch mites -- are eight-legged critters that burrow into the upper layer of your skin. There, they lay eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the mites climb to the surface of your skin, where they spread to other parts of your body. They can also spread to other people.

A severe form of scabies called “crusted scabies” (or Norwegian crusted scabies) sometimes happens in people who have weakened immune systems. It gets its name from the thick crusts of skin that form from large numbers of scabies mites and eggs.

Scabies can live on the human body for 1 to 2 months. They can live in bedding or furniture for just 24 to

How Do You Get Them?

Scabies is very contagious. It is spread from one infected person to another through direct, prolonged, close physical contact. Nursing homes, extended care facilities, prisons, and childcare centers are frequent sites for scabies outbreaks.

Healthy adults most often get these mites through sexual contact with an infected person.

You can’t get scabies from pets.

What Are the Symptoms?

Your first signs that something is wrong will be intense itching (especially at night), and a pimple-like rash. You might notice these symptoms all over your body. Or they may be limited to certain areas, like your wrist, elbows, genitals, butt, or the webbing between your fingers.

Children might experience itching or rash on their head, face, neck, palms, and on the soles of their feet.

You might also notice burrows on your skin. These are tiny, raised, grayish-white or flesh-colored lines on your body. They’re caused by the mites digging their way into your skin.

If you have crusted scabies, you might not have the itching or rash that scabies is known for.

If you’ve had scabies before, you might develop symptoms after just a few days of being exposed to the mites. But if you’ve never had it, you may not have any symptoms for up to 6 weeks. Still, you can spread the mites to others -- even if you don’t show signs of infection yourself.

How Is Scabies Diagnosed?

Your doctor may be able to tell you have the mites by checking the rash or burrows on your body. He might also try to remove one of the mites from its burrow. He’ll do this either by scraping your skin or pulling the parasite from its burrow with a thin needle.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Lisa Bernstein, MD on March 14, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Scabies Frequently Asked Questions.”

Mayo Clinic: “Symptoms.”

UpToDate: “Scabies. (Beyond the Basics).”

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