by Kimberly Allen, RN
Scabies is a very itchy and highly contagious skin condition. It can affect anyone at any age as well as all social and economic levels. Many people thinks that only people that don’t bathe regularly get scabes but that is not true, even people that are very conscientious about their personal hygiene can get scabes. Scabies is considered one of the most common skin disorders diagnosed in children.
Scabies is caused by a mite so tiny that it is not visible to the human eye. The mite is called Saroptes Scabiei and it burrows under your skin. Once under your skin it causes severe itching. The World Health Organization classifies scabes as a water related disease, however, in the past it has been classified as a sexually transmitted disease or STD. The most common method of transmission of the scabes mite is through intimate skin to skin contact. However, because these mites can survive for 36 to 48 hours off of a host (human) body they can also be transmitted through contact with bed linens, towels, and clothing as well as other personal items by someone with scabes. In fact scabes frequently affects entire households at the same time. Once you’ve been exposed the Sarcoptes Scabiei mite is able to very quickly burrow under your skin. Their favorite places to burrow are areas that are wrinkled and rough like knee’s and elbows as well as knuckles. They spread easily to other areas of your body when you scratch and area that is already infected with mites. Despite what many believe you can’t get scabes from dogs or cats. Each specie has it’s own specie of mite that causes scabes, in animals it’s called mange, and they are only able to survive on their own hosts. You may develop a slight skin irritation that is temporary from touching an animal with mange/scabes but you will not develop scabes.
When symptoms appear they tend to depend on whether or not you have had the disease before. For those that have scabes for the first time it usually takes several weeks for symptoms to manifest, while those that have had scabies before the symptoms usually appear with in a few days. The most common symptom of scabes is an intense itching that tends to worsen at night in the area of infestation. Some people notice tiny irregular burrow tracks. They appear like thin scratch marks but are actually a series of tiny bumps and blisters on your skin. Scabies can be found anywhere on your body, however, some of the more common areas in adults include between your fingers and along the insides of your wrists as well as in your arm pits and around your waist. In children scabes tends to manifest in the area of the scalp, face and neck as well as the palms of their hands and soles of their feet. You can then develop sores on your skin from scratching. As the mites continue to burrow and lay eggs the itching worsens which in turn leads to more scratching which can lead to secondary infections.
Scabies will not resolve on it’s own. It requires treatment and the sooner the better. Because scabes is so contagious many Drs treat the whole family or household in order to prevent it from spreading. Treatment of scabes focuses on eliminating the infestation of the Sarcoptes Scabiei mites. There are several lotions and creams available that your doctor can prescribe, including permethrin 5%, Lindane and Eurax. These medications need to be applied to your entire body from the neck down and leave them on for around 8 hours. Some are safe for young children while others aren’t, your doctor will be able to recommend the medications that best fits your individual needs.
The best way to prevent scabies from spreading and/or re infesting is to wash all linens, towels and clothes in hot soapy water and dry on high heat. Clothes that can not be washed like wool coats should be dry cleaned. If you are unable to use hot soapy water or high heat or items that you can’t wash put them in a sealed plastic bag and leave for a couple of weeks. This will starve the mites to death.