Scabies is a skin condition caused by scabies mites. The main symptom of scabies is an itchy rash, which is caused by an allergic reaction to the proteins on the mites and in their feces.
Scabies is generally diagnosed by scraping the affected area and looking at the skin cells under a microscope where scabies mites, eggs, or feces can be seen. The condition is highly contagious and will not go away without treatment.
Medication treatments for scabies are known as “scabicides” because they are designed to kill scabies mites. Some scabicides also kill mite eggs.
Although you may find products claiming to be scabicides as over-the-counter (OTC) medications, the only products tested and approved for killing scabies mites require a prescription.
Scabies medications are generally in the form of a cream or lotion which must be applied all over the body from the neck down, including the feet and toes. The cream should be applied when the skin is clean and must be left on for the recommended time before it is washed off.
It is important to dress in clean (mite-free) clothing after treatment and to thoroughly clean all clothing that might be carrying mites to avoid reinfestation.
In addition to treating the full body, infants and young children who have scabies must also be treated on their entire head and neck as scabies can affect their face, scalp, and neck. Some medications which are safe for adults are not recommended for young children or pregnant women, so use only medication that has been prescribed specifically for you.
Do not share scabies medicines with other people. In severe cases, such as crusted scabies, your doctor may also order an oral medication to help kill mites and their eggs.
Scabies is very contagious through extended skin-to-skin contact. The allergic reaction to scabies mite proteins can take two to six weeks to develop after infestation. So even if other people in the household do not have scabies symptoms, doctors generally require scabies treatment for sexual partners, family members, and other close contacts. Everyone who was exposed to the mites should receive treatment for scabies at the same time to prevent reinfestation.
In addition to treating people, all bedding, towels, and clothing that might have been contaminated with mites during the three days prior to treatment must be washed in hot water, dry cleaned, or sealed in plastic for at least 72 hours. Generally, scabies mites cannot survive away from human skin for more than three days.
Scabies treatments are highly effective at killing scabies mites. But because scabies rash and itching are caused by an allergic reaction to mite proteins, it can take an additional two to four weeks after treatment for itching symptoms to go away. Treatments to help reduce itching from scabies include soaking in cool water or placing a cool washcloth over the affected area, soothing lotions such as calamine, and antihistamines.
If you are concerned about scabies or think you could be infested with scabies mites, talk to your health care provider to get appropriate treatment.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parasites – Scabies. Web. December 7, 2011.
Mayo Clinic. Scabies. Web. December 7, 2011.
PubMed Health. Scabies. Web. December 7, 2011.
Reviewed December 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith