Scabies is caused by a tiny ‘itch’ mite called Sarcoptes scabiei and results in a highly contagious and extremely itchy skin condition. The mites infest their human hosts by burrowing beneath the derma where they feed.
The mites are very small eight-legged parasites, not to be confused with their larger insect brethren who only have six legs, and measure about 1/3 millimetre in length. When burrowed down inside the skin they produce incessant itching which is generally worse at night.
Only female mites infest humans and can be seen with under a magnifying glass or microscope. Although the mites can crawl they are unable to jump or fly.
At temperatures below 20 C they become immobile but may still live for some considerable time in that state.
How do you get scabies?
Scabies is actually very common with cases reported worldwide totalling around 300 million every year. Cases of the human variation (it can affect cats and dogs too but is not cross contagious) go back as far as 2,500 years. In recent times it has been more prevalent in nursing homes, hospitals and among the homeless, although all social groups are susceptible.
The mites are transferred from one host to another via direct skin-to-skin contact. The condition is considered by many as a sexually transmitted disease, and while that is one of the biggest causes of spreading, it is not exclusive to sexual contact.
It is also possible for people hugging to pass mites on, and cases in babies are often a result of the mother contracting the condition first.
The mites can live in fabrics on clothes, furniture and even wallpapers but it is extremely difficult to catch them from anything other than close, personal human contact with a carrier.
The parasites can live in the body for a few months before symptoms begin to show, but during that time the host is able to transmit the mites.
What are the symptoms and how can you get rid of scabies?
One of the first symptoms is a blotchy rash which blisters. It appears in bodily ‘creases’ such as the webbing between fingers and toes, the wrists and elbows, naval and groin. They may also appear on the neck and somach.
The itching from scabies eventually becomes unbearable, and unlike eczema it doesn’t subside. After a few months of having scabies the host will be unable to sleep or function normally due to the discomfort.
Getting rid of the condition is quite straight forward and a trip to your doctor is the first step. There you will be prescribed one of several ‘scabicide’ options which include:
- Permethrin cream, which is applied from the neck down and left overnight (washed off in the morning)
- A 200g per KG of body weight Ivermectin which is taken orally
- Sulphur in petrolatum which is one of the earliest known cures and is safe for use during pregnancy
After a few weeks the relief from itching is dramatically noticeable but if symptoms persist go back to your doctor immediately.
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images: healthpatio.com, scabiespicturesofrash.comTags: herpes