Learn more about this contagious condition that causes intense itching, usually in areas where the skin folds, such as around joints.
Scabies is an itchy skin rash caused by a tiny burrowing mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. Intense itching occurs in the area where the mite burrows. The need to scratch may be stronger at night.
Scabies is contagious and can spread quickly through close person-to-person contact in a family, child care group, school class, nursing home or prison. Because scabies spreads so easily, health care providers often recommend treating the entire family or any close contacts.
Scabies is easily treated. Medicated skin creams or pills kill the mites that cause scabies and their eggs. But itching may not stop for many weeks after treatment.
Scabies symptoms include:
Scabies is often found in the skin folds. But scabies can appear on many parts of the body. In adults and older children, scabies is most often found:
In infants and young children, common sites of scabies usually include the:
If you've had scabies before, symptoms may start within a few days of exposure. If you've never had scabies, it can take as long as six weeks for symptoms to start. You can still spread scabies even if you don't have any symptoms yet.
Talk to your health care provider if you have any symptoms of scabies.
Many skin conditions, such as dermatitis or eczema, also can cause itching and small bumps on the skin. Your health care provider can find the exact cause of your symptoms so that you receive the right treatment. Antihistamines or nonprescription lotions may ease itching. But they won't get rid of the mites or their eggs.
Scabies is caused by a tiny, eight-legged mite. The female mite burrows just under the skin and makes a tunnel where it lays eggs.
The eggs hatch, and the mite larvae travel to the surface of the skin, where they mature. These mites can then spread to other areas of the skin or to the skin of other people. Itching is caused by the body's allergic reaction to the mites, their eggs and their waste.
Close skin-to-skin contact and, less often, sharing clothing or bedding with a person who has scabies can spread the mites.
Pets don't spread scabies to humans. The scabies mites that affect animals don't survive or reproduce in people.
However, coming in contact with an animal that has scabies may cause brief itching if the mite gets under the skin. But within a few days, the mite will die. So treatment isn't needed.
Scratching too much can break your skin and cause an infection, such as impetigo. Impetigo is an infection on the skin's surface that's caused most often by staph bacteria (staphylococci) or sometimes by strep bacteria (streptococci).
A more severe type of scabies, called crusted scabies, may affect certain people, including:
Crusted scabies makes the skin crusty and scaly, and affects large areas of the body. It's very contagious and can be hard to treat. Quick treatment with both a prescription pill and a skin cream is needed.
Typically, someone with scabies has about 10 to 15 mites. But someone with crusted scabies may have millions of mites. Yet itching may not occur or may be mild.
To prevent scabies from coming back and to keep the mites from spreading to other people, take these steps:
To diagnose scabies, your health care provider looks at your skin for symptoms of mites. Your provider may also take a sample of your skin to look at under a microscope. This allows your provider to see if any mites or eggs are present.
Scabies treatment involves killing the mites and eggs with a medicated cream or pill. No treatment is available without a prescription. Several creams and lotions are available by prescription.
Your health care provider will likely ask you to apply the medication to your whole body, from the neck down. You'll need to leave it on for at least 8 to 14 hours. Sometimes, you may have to apply the lotion twice. More treatments may be needed if new symptoms appear..
Because scabies spreads so easily, your health care provider will likely recommend treating all household members and other close contacts, even if they don't have symptoms of scabies..
Treatment for scabies often includes:.
Although these drugs kill the mites quickly, itching may not stop for many weeks.
Health care providers may prescribe other skin care treatments for people who don't get relief from or can't use these drugs.
Your skin might still itch for several weeks after scabies treatment. Taking oral allergy pills or using nonprescription skin creams, such as calamine lotion, may help ease itching.
Make an appointment with a member of your health care team if you or your child has symptoms of scabies.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Below are some basic questions to ask your provider about scabies.
Your health care provider is likely to ask you several questions. Preparing for these questions ahead of time may help ensure that you get the most out of your appointment. Your provider may ask:
Before your appointment, try at-home and nonprescription remedies to help reduce itching. Allergy pills and calamine lotion may provide some relief. Ask your health care provider what nonprescription medications and lotions are safe for your child.