What You Need to Know About Scabies

When we hear the word scabies, we think of a medieval disease that couldn’t possibly find its way into a modern home or life.  The reality is, scabies is still present in modern day, and presents itself as an itchy, red skin condition stemming from superficial burrows in the skin.  This infection of the skin is caused by a tiny burrowing mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. When exposed to the mite, a person experiences intense itching on the area of the skin that the mite decides to burrow in.  This mite, or the scabies that it causes, is very contagious and can easily be spread to anyone within close physical contact.  Because of its highly contagious nature, treatment is often recommended for an entire family or contact group of the infected person.  If you contract scabies, it is easy to treat with topical medications that kill the scabie mites and their eggs.



In the scabies infection, it is the female mite who is responsible for the itchy skin reaction.  It is caused when the female mite burrows just beneath the skin, that is superficially, and makes a tunnel to deposits its eggs in. When these eggs hatch, the mite larvae surface to the skin, where they mature spread to other areas of the skin or to others.  Itching is a result of the bodies allergic reacting to the burrowing mites and their eggs. 

What are the symptoms or signs of scabies?

Scabies is characterized by severe itching, which typically worsens at night.  You will also notice superficial burrow tracks that form in a line across the skin.  These tracks are the formation of closely placed blisters or bumps made by the burrowing mite. Although the marks can appear anywhere on the body, they are more common in areas where the skin folds such as:

·         Between fingers

·         In armpits

·         Around your waist

·         Along the insides of wrists

·         On your inner elbow

·         On the soles of your feet

·         Around breasts

·         Around the male genital area

·         Buttocks

·         Knees

·         Shoulder blades

For those who have had scabies before, the allergic reaction can develop within a few days of infection.  If it is the first time being exposed to the mite however, symptoms may not develop until up to six weeks.   Even if there are no signs or symptoms, an infected person can still spread scabies. You should see a doctor if you have what you think might be symptoms, or tracks, for scabies. The symptoms can often get confused with skin conditions like eczema or dermatitis, so seeing a doctor is necessary to make sure the right condition is being treated. 

If scabies is allowed to progress without treatment it can allow secondary, more serious infection to occur.  These secondary infections like staph or strep can take hold when intense scratching breaks the skin and allows these other bacteria to invade the body.

Certain people might be prone to more serious scabies infections depending on their health status.  Those at high risk for serious complications are:

·         Anyone with chronic health conditions that weaken the immune system (HIV or leukemia)

·         Anyone who is very ill, or hospitalized

·         Elderly people