If you have an itch that causes a temporary irritation, and if that itch persists and starts to develop into a rash, or gets worse at night, you may have scabies. 

Scabies is a type of skin infestation caused by very small parasitic mites called 'Sarcoptes scabiei'. The parasitic female mites get into the skin to lay their eggs and causes itching. These female mites may stay inside the burrowed skin for a period of 1 to 2 months. New baby insects hatched from the eggs spread to other parts of the skin by itching. The baby mites become adult ones within 12 to 15 days untill any appropriate treatment is applied. 

How is scabies transmitted?

The infection of scabies mostly gets transmitted by sustained direct or skin to skin contact with someone who is already infested with the mites. The chances of transmission increases usually among sexual partners and household members. Some other ways the mites may enter a person's body is in contact with scabies infected person’s clothing, bedding, or towels. Some facilities like child care, nursing homes, and prisons also act as sources for scabies outbreaks.

These mites have the ability to survive away from humans for about 24–36 hours and there are also chances to get scabies from infected articles such as bed linen and clothing, although this is much less common. Some people believe pets can cause infections too but pets do not transmit and cause human scabies infections. 

Symptoms of scabies

Main symptoms of scabies are:

1. There can be intense itching that typically worsens at night or after a hot bath or shower

2. Some visible burrows on the skin normally between the fingers and also between the toes, and in skin creases such as armpits and genitals. The other sites of infestation include the lower portion of buttocks, breasts, penis, and waists.

3. Develop a bump or pimple-like rash, which is sometimes difficult to see.

4. Visibility of fluid-filled spots or lesions in clear small patterns.

The symptoms of Scabies never appear on the feet soles, palms of the hands, or anywhere above the neck and head, and there is not many rashes to be seen as the mites get buried into the skin. Symptoms vary with age, as in the elderly people, the rash may appear more widespread while in children, areas such as the face, scalp, palms, and feet soles are often affected. 

Even if scabies has been effectively treated, the itch may even continue for two to three weeks after treatment. The reason behind the itch is the response of the body’s immune system to the mites and takes some time to settle down. You can take medication after consultation with your doctor and explore about treatments available to help with the itch. 

Doctors should be consulted if the symptoms persist for longer than two to three weeks.

Scabies Infection Time

Scabies symptoms normally develop two to four weeks after infection but for people who have been previously diagnosed with the symptoms, the infection occurs within 24 to 48 hours as the immune system takes less time to respond. 

However, after 24 hours of treatment, a person is no longer infectious.

In case of healthy people who had never been infested with scabies before, symptoms like itching and redness of the skin may appear approximately 3 to 7 weeks after infestation. The symptoms may appear within 1 to 5 days after reinfestation for people who had been infested with scabies before as mostly, any such previous exposure to scabies will sensitize the skin.

Usually, the primary symptoms may cause discomfort and inconvenience. But itching causes secondary bacterial infections that usually requires antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.

Caution should be maintained to treat scabies as soon as possible; as with time, the live mites number may multiply that results in atypical infestations and may even result in the death of the infected person. The risk of a severe form of scabies, especially the crusted or Norwegian scabies, is higher in the elderly people and people with weaker immune systems. The crusted scabies tend to be more contagious than the normal one which doesn't pass on with direct skin to skin contact. Moreover, people with crusted scabies are often wrongly diagnosed with psoriasis or eczema as the typical signs and symptoms of scabies are not visible in such cases.

Diagnosis of scabies

Mostly, diagnosis is based on identifying, observing the signs and symptoms, especially the burrows on the top of the skin. Skin scraping test and identifying mites and eggs by laboratory tests are other ways to diagnose the disease. 

Treatment of Scabies

Applying a cream or lotion are recommended to treat scabies. 

Treatment instructions to treat scabies include:

1. After a shower, apply creams since creams get easily absorbed after towel drying.

2. Cream or lotion should be applied in a thin layer to the body surface from the chin down, and avoid fingers areas, nails, feet soles and areas between your buttocks, nose, eyes, and mouth. Keeping a pastry brush will help to easily apply the cream.

3. Kindly avoid washing your hands after treatment.

4. Please allow the treatment to remain on the skin for 12–24 hours and then wash thoroughly. It is best to apply in the evening and leave it overnight.

5. Repeat the treatment within one week’s time to destroy all the hatched mites inside the skin. Antibiotics may be necessary for the infected pimples or spots.

Clothing, bedding or towels used in the last two days should be washed on a hot cycle or dry-cleaned.

Treatment is different for some groups of people, including children under 2 years of age, pregnant women, one with sensitive skin, elderly people.

Consult your doctor or pharmacist about what kind of treatment is recommended if you fall under any of these age groups.