What is Scabies?

Scabies is a condition that is caused by mites called Sarcoptes scabiei and it results in itchy skin as the mite burrows.  It is contagious and spreads via physical contact.  Families, schools, nursing homes and other groups are susceptible to getting scabies from other people and for this reason treatment is often recommended for the entire group.

What are the Symptoms of Scabies?

The most common symptom of scabies is severe itching.  It often happens at night.  Sometimes, the mites leave visible burrow tracks in the skin that look like bumps or blisters.  They are most likely to appear in skin folds but can appear anywhere.  Evidence of scabies is often found in armpits, on the inside of the wrist, between fingers, at the waist, around the breasts, inner elbow, near male genitalia, on knees, and on shoulder blades.

Younger children may also find scabies on the face, neck, scalp, bottoms of feet, and palms of hands.  If you’ve never had scabies before, it can take up to six weeks for symptoms to appear but they show up faster if you have had scabies in the past.

Causes of Scabies

Scabies is caused by the female Sarcoptes scabiei mite, which burrows into an individual’s skin and reproduces. Symptoms are an individual’s allergic reaction to the presence of the mites.

Scabies spreads quickly and easily through contact with other people. This happens in situations where an affected individual comes into close contact with others by touching them, sleeping in the same bed, or sharing personal items like towels or clothing. Many cases in teenagers and young adults are spread through sexual contact, which would lead some people to classify it as a sexually transmitted disease, but not all cases of scabies occur this way.

There is no one group of people that is more or less likely to get scabies, and it is a common infestation in humans. Age, race, and socioeconomic status play no role, although there have been occasionally been epidemics in recent years in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals and other institutions as well as homeless populations.

How is Scabies Treated?

Treatment for scabies is focused on getting rid of the infestation.  Entire families or groups of people may be treated because it is so contagious.  Some of the medications for scabies are:

  • Lindane lotion: A chemical treatment that is usually a last resource and not recommended for children under 2 years or pregnant or nursing women.
  • Ivermectin: Also known as Stromectol; an oral medication suitable for those with lowered immune systems, people whose scabies are crusted, and people who lotions and creams do not work for. It is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women or children that are under 33 pounds.
  • Permethrin cream: A topical cream that contains chemicals that kills mites and the eggs. Safe for anyone except children under the age of 2 months and nursing mothers.
  • Crotamiton: A lotion or cream applied over two days; not recommend for nursing or pregnant women or for children.


Scabies Prevention

Avoiding close contact with someone you know who has scabies is the best way to prevent getting it. You will also want to avoid contact with any clothing or bedding that has been used by someone who is infested with them.

If you have been infested with scabies, there are precautions you will need to take in order to prevent a reinfestation or spreading the mites to others. Items such as clothing and linens should be washed in water that has reached a temperature of at least 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius), then dried in the dryer on the highest possible heat setting for somewhere between ten thirty minutes.Vaccum everything else, throw away the bag and clean your vacuum out with hot water and bleach. Also use bleach and hot water on other surfaces the scabies mites could have landed on.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
November 01, 2017