Scabies on the Skin: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

By | 11/02/2018
scabies rash

Scabies is a pretty infectious disease that affects the skin, causing papular rash and intense itching.

You may have heard of scabies, but most people do not know for sure what it is. Scabies consists of a skin disease caused by the itch mite.

This mite enters the flesh by digging tiny tunnels under the skin. It is so small that it can easily go unnoticed to the naked eye. This parasite belongs to the same family as spiders.

Scabies is sometimes transmitted through sexual contact. However, children often get it from each other and from adults through daily contact.

Causes.

Scabies is caused by the microscopic mite Sarcoptes Scabiei. The female mites burrow into the outer layers of the skin to lay their eggs.

The eggs hatch to give larvae, who work their way back up to the skin’s surface. These worms go through a nymph stage, before eventually becoming adults.

Scabies tends to spread rapidly in a place where people are frequently in physical contact with each other, such as child care centers and nursing homes.

Towels and bedding can spread the disease. It’s not spread by pets, but it can be transmitted to sexual partners.

Symptoms.

Scabies is an extremely itchy disease, especially at night. A reddish rash, or pimple-like eruptions, are generally present.

Tiny lines are sometimes present on the skin surface; these are the burrows of the female mite.

Attacks are often seen in the folds of the skin, such as between the fingers, in the elbows, under the armpits, and around the genitals.

The intense itching makes most people scratch, giving rise to further sores. Secondary infection of the scratched sores by bacteria can occur.

Symptoms of scabies are not usually visible. When there are symptoms, these may include intense itching, especially at night, and small pustules or rashes commonly found in the following sites:

  • Wrist
  • Elbow
  • Armpit
  • Nipple
  • Penis
  • Waist
  • Buttocks
  • Between the fingers

Usually, the development of symptoms takes between three and four weeks. But if you have recently had scabies and got reinfected, you may feel itching in a few hours.

Crusted scabies is a severe form of the disease, most often seen in the elderly and immunocompromised patients.

Here thick crusts appear on the skin, each containing large numbers of mites. Crusted scabies is more likely to spread than ordinary scabies.

Tests and exams.

The health care provider will examine the skin for signs of scabies.

Tests that may be done include scraping holes in the skin to remove mites, eggs or feces for examination under a microscope. In some cases, a skin biopsy is performed.

Treatments.

Permethrin cream (Elimite) is the standard treatment for scabies. Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid compound, which normally will kill the mites after one or two treatments.

The whole skin should be treated, from the neck downwards. In children, the head and neck should also be treated.

Crotamiton lotion or cream (Eurax or Crotan) is also sometimes used to kill the mite.

Lindane had been used in the past to kill scabies mites but is not typically used nowadays, due to the risk of side-effects. It is only used when other treatments have proved inefficient or given rise to allergic reactions.

Ivermectin is an oral medication, usually used to combat parasitic worms. It can also be used to combat scabies.

Neem oil is sometimes recommended on various websites, but there is not any substantial scientific evidence that it is useful. It seems to work better for some people than others.

Proper clinical trials are needed to establish whether it does work and, if so, which formulation is best. Some laboratory work has suggested that it has little activity.

Even after the mites got killed, itching could probably continue, as the body reacts to the dead mites or their feces.

Eventually, the itching should stop, because all the mites should are dead. Antibiotics may be needed to treat any secondary bacterial infections, but they are ineffective against the mites themselves.

Usually, all the members of a family should get treatment at once. All sexual partners should also be treated. Scabies can spread some weeks before a person has any symptoms.

Bedding, towels, and clothing should be decontaminated by a hot wash, followed by a warm dry.

When a hot washing is not possible, contaminated items can be sealed in plastic for at least three days. The mites will eventually die without a human host.

Dry cleaning will also kill the mite. It’s a good idea to vacuum soft furnishings, but remember to throw away the vacuum bag.

How do I know if I have scabies?

Although people sometimes realize alone that they have scabies, it is often difficult to self-diagnose.

Your healthcare provider may examine a scraping of your skin under a microscope to determine if you have scabies. Other times, a biopsy or skin sample will be needed.

How does scabies spread?

Scabies spread very easily. Although it is usually spread by sexual contact, not only is it spread by having sex with an infected person.

It spreads easily through:

  • Close personal contact.
  • Contact with infected bedding and clothing.

How can I avoid scabies or spread them?

Scabies spread quickly, and there is no way to protect yourself. The only thing that can reduce the odds of getting scabies is to limit the number of people with whom you have intimate or sexual contact.

If you have scabies, do not have sex again until your partner has completed the treatment.

Expectations (prognosis).

The itching may continue for two weeks or more after treatment has started. It will disappear if you follow the treatment plan of the care provider.

Most cases of scabies can be cured without problems in the long run. A severe case with a lot of scaling or scab may be a sign that the person’s immune system is weakened.

Possible complications.

Severe scratching can cause secondary infection of the skin, such as impetigo.

Scabies in a few words:

It is a skin disease. Common symptoms include intense itching, small lumps, or rashes.

There is treatment. It is easily spread through intimate contact, including sexual foreplay.

There are ways to reduce the risk of infection.