Scabies is a skin disease, which is caused by a small mite. This is a bug that we cannot see with the naked eye. The scabies mite lives under the skin and digs tiny ducts. The females lay eggs there, which hatch after three to four days. This causes itch, a response of the body against the mite and its eggs. Scabies is not serious, but it is contagious.
The scabies mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) is transferred only after intimate contact between people, such as sexual intercourse. Just shaking hands with a scabies carrier, for example, is not enough to get the disease. Sometimes, contamination takes place by sleeping in a bed with unwashed bed linen, in which previously a scabies infected person has been sleeping. Scabies has furthermore nothing to do with poor hygiene. There is usually a period of two to six weeks between infection and the development of the first symptoms. The scabies mite is less than half a millimeter in size.
The main symptom of scabies is severe itch. The appearance of a scabies infection is made up of the typical tiny ducts in the skin that are visible to the naked eye. Because the scabies mite is preferably located in the body folds of the skin, the ducts can best be found there. Scabies is almost never seen in the face or on the scalp.
Typical places where scabies can be found are between the fingers, wrists, armpits and buttocks. In men, also the penis and scrotum are often affected and in women the skin around the nipples. Especially in the armpits and buttocks, instead of ducts, red itchy bumps are seen. In small children, the ducts are not always the most remarkable. In them, there is a higher frequency of red bumps that may occur all over the body. Especially in these cases, a scabies infection is sometimes mistaken for eczema or hives.
In typical cases, the doctor can make the diagnosis of scabies on the basis of the outer appearance. However, there will still be attempted to actually demonstrate the scabies mite. This is done by scraping a duct with a little knife or a small sharp spoon and then examine the harvested material under the microscope.
There are several anti-scabies creams that are available on doctor’s prescription at the pharmacy. Permethrin cream is the most used. Nowadays, it’s also possible to treat scabies with tablets. This treatment is reserved by most dermatologists for those cases where the ointment is not sufficiently effective.
It is important to treat family members (even without symptoms) as well and also take measures to prevent reinfection from bed linen, clothing or household goods.
Scabies can be completely cured by simple means. If it comes back anyway, it may be due to the fact that the treatment has not been applied accurate enough or that someone from the environment has not been treated as well. Keep in mind that after treatment, it may take several weeks before all symptoms have disappeared completely.
- If a person is treated for scabies, it is important that all potential sources of contamination in the house be removed. This way, it’s prevented that a person re-infects himself again.
- Wash bed linen and underwear at least at 60°C.
- Regarding the outerwear, people can suffice with proper ventilation and shaking out. This also applies to blankets or duvets.
- Air mattresses and pillows for three full days.
- Store non-washable things for three full days in tied (airtight) bin bags.
- Good personal hygiene reduces the risk of scabies. A person must wash himself and his or her cloths and bed linen regularly.