Scabies In Children

Scabies in children can present slightly differently than in adults. Young children may be affected on the hands, abdomen, wrists and genitals, whilst older children may exhibit a rash on the palms of their hands, soles of their feet, neck and/shoulders.

What is scabies in children?

Scabies refers to an infestation of parasitic mites, which typically causes a rash and severe itching. Due to its highly contagious nature, scabies in children is not uncommon. Having skin-to-skin contact with another person with scabies, sharing linens or even toys with another child can result in scabies being spread from one individual to another.

When present, scabies mites burrow under the skin. The body responds by releasing histamines, which cause the intense itching associated with the condition.

Although scabies in children can usually be treated fairly easily, the risk of re-infestation is high. Anyone can suffer ongoing bouts of scabies but children may be more likely to contract the infestation repeatedly as they may be unable to enact preventative measures without constant supervision.

What are the symptoms of scabies in children?

When children develop scabies, they may exhibit a number of symptoms, such as:

  • Intense itching
  • Pimply, red rash
  • Pustules or blisters
  • Red, thin lines on the skin
  • Increased risk of bacterial infections

As scabies mites cannot be seen with the naked eye, the intense itching and pimply rash are often the first signs of the condition. However, an initial infestation of scabies may not cause itching or a rash for a period of three to four weeks. If a child contracts scabies again, they are likely to exhibit symptoms much more quickly, usually within a matter of days.

Scabies in children can cause a rash to develop anywhere on the body but young children are most likely to exhibit a rash on the neck, shoulders, head, palms of their hands and soles of their feet. Older children will often present with a rash on the abdomen, genitals, wrists and hands.

In some cases, scabies in children can also cause water-filled blisters or pustules to appear on the skin. Similarly, the child may have red lines on their skin, which highlight where the mites are burrowing under the skin to lay eggs.

Due to the level of itching caused by scabies in children, the patient’s skin may crack or break. It can be difficult for patients to stop scratching their skin when scabies is present, and this can result in lesions forming and skin breaking. Once this happens, the patient has a higher risk of contracting a secondary bacterial infection. If this happens, additional treatment will be required.

What causes scabies in children?

Scabies is highly contagious and can easily be passed from one person to another. As scabies in normally transferred, it can be contracted in various ways, such as:

  • Skin-to-skin contact with another person with scabies
  • Sharing clothes, linens or towels with someone with scabies
  • Sharing other items, such as teddies and soft toys, with someone with scabies

When a patient is treated for scabies, it is necessary to wash all of their clothes, linens and towels in order to destroy the mites and eggs. Providing the items are washed at a high enough temperature, this should kill the mites and prevent a re-infestation from occurring.

However, if these items are used by other people before washing takes place, they could transfer the mites and cause someone else to contract scabies. As young children are often in close proximity to one another, such as in kindergarten, it’s very easy for scabies in children to spread quickly.

What is the treatment for scabies in children?

A physician is usually able to diagnose scabies in children with a straightforward visual examination. In some conditions, a skin sample may be taken to rule out the possibility of other conditions. Once scabies has been confirmed, treatment will be prescribed.

When treating scabies in children, a topical cream is usually the first type of treatment used. In most cases, a topical anti-scabies lotion should be applied all over the patient’s body and washed off after a certain number of hours. Some medications may require a second application a few days after the initial treatment has been applied.

If a child is diagnosed with scabies, other members of the household should be examined in order to determine whether they have contracted the condition too. Similarly, frequent visitors or caregivers should be informed so that they can access medical help. Some physicians advise that other members of the family are treated as a preventative measure, regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms of an infestation.

Although this type of treatment should rid the patient of the infestation, the itching caused by scabies may continue for two to four weeks after treatment has been applied. Due to this, parents and caregivers will need to prevent children from scratching their skin. In cases where young children have scabies, their fingernails should be cut to avoid them scratching their skin.

If the skin is broken due to scratching, the patient could be at risk of developing a bacterial infection. If necessary, this can be treated with topical, oral or intravenous antibiotics, depending on the severity of the infection.

Can scabies in children be prevented?

It can be very difficult to prevent scabies in children due to its highly contagious nature. However, parents and caregivers can take steps to prevent children from contracting scabies if they have been exposed to someone else with the condition. Washing shared items, such as clothes or linens, can help to reduce the risk of the condition being spread, for example. Although experts have differing views on whether shared linens is likely to increase the spread of infection, washing these items could be advisable as a preventative measure.

In addition to this, parents and caregivers can take steps to ensure that initial treatment is effective and that a re-infestation is prevented. Ensuring young children keep the medicated lotion on their skin for the relevant period of time will help to make sure the infestation is fully treated, for example. Similarly, preventing children from scratching their skin could help to avoid secondary infections from developing.