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Scabies: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Scabies is a condition caused by the infestation of the skin with the human itch mite. These mites are hardly visible to the naked eye as they are very small in size and more likely to spread in communal living areas like nursing homes and military barracks, being transmitted from person to person rather than from household pets like cats and dogs. Even if mites from pets are passed on to humans, they are unable to infest human skin and survive on its surface for an extended period. 

Consequently, any resulting irritation may resolve on its own relatively quickly. However, scabies transmitted between individuals require treatment. The question “How to treat scabies?” is often asked before addressing the query “What is scabies?”

What is Scabies?

Scabies is a skin disease which is caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei von hominis. It’s highly contagious and commonly occurs during the season such as the autumn and winter months. The mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin, causing itching and the formation of rashes and wounds in the body if it is left untreated. This occurrence takes place when the mite penetrates the skin of a living person. 

The mite navigates by burrowing in the outer layers of the skin and has a lifespan of around 4 to 8 weeks. Nevertheless, within this timeframe, it deposits eggs and excrement in the tunnels it creates. Furthermore, the itching tends to be more intense at night. It is crucial to note that scabies can affect anyone, regardless of their hygiene.

What is Crusted Scabies?

Crusted scabies, also known as Norwegian scabies or crusted scabies, are commonly observed in infants, older individuals, or individuals with compromised immune systems. Along with scabies, this condition can cause itching on the soles of the feet, hands, palms, neck, head, and face. An infected person’s skin may exhibit thick crusts containing the scabies mite eggs. Individuals who are infected with crusted scabies typically harbor around 2 million scabies mites or eggs within their bodies.

Consequently, patients infected with scabies possess a high likelihood of transmitting the disease to others. Moreover, crusted scabies can manifest in individuals with neurological disorders that suppress the immune system, individuals with Down syndrome, individuals undergoing chemotherapy, AIDS patients, as well as the elderly and infants whose immune systems are not yet fully developed.

What Are The Symptoms of Scabies?

Scabies is a prevalent parasitic infection that typically results in itching on various parts of the body on an individual such as the wrists, elbows, armpits, chest, waist, hips, genital area, and between the toes and fingers. The itching and skin lesions can also manifest on the nipples in women and the genital area in men.

In children, itching may additionally be present behind the ears, face, palms, and soles of the feet. The burrows that are created by the mites are visible to the naked eye on the skin’s surface. Scabies, characterized by intense itching that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, may lead to secondary skin infections due to scratching. Therefore, it is advisable to seek medical advice when experiencing these symptoms.

  • Severe itchiness, particularly at night,
  • White or gray lines measuring 1-10 mm on the skin’s surface, especially between the fingers, caused by mites,
  • Itching that worsens with hot baths,
  • Accumulation of dirt and blackhead-like formations at the top of the tunnels due to the mites,
  • Fluid-filled lesions resembling pearls on the skin’s surface,
  • Common presence of redness, rash, and sores.

What Causes Scabies?

It is a dermatological condition which results from an infestation of the microscopic parasite known as Sarcoptes scabiei, which resides on the surface of human skin. The presence of this parasite leads to an infection on the skin as it burrows into the epidermis and deposits its eggs. Transmission of scabies occurs readily through direct contact, enabling the transfer of the condition from an individual with scabies to one without. Note that, close skin-to-skin interaction, sexual activity, or the sharing of garments heightens the likelihood of scabies transmission.

How Are Scabies Transmitted?

Scabies occurrence tends to rise during the autumn and winter seasons. The sarcoptes scabiei von hominis mite, commonly referred to as the scabies bug, is the source of this condition, which is more prevalent in places like schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and barracks.

Moreover, scabies are also frequently transmitted within family members. The disease can be transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact, as well as through shared beds, sheets, towels, and clothing. This is because the mite can survive outside the human body for up to 1-2 days. Contrary to popular belief, scabies affects individuals of all ages and genders, regardless of their hygiene practices. Personal hygiene do not play a role in the development of scabies in an individual.

When a healthy person is infected with the scabies bug, it will burrow under the skin, create tunnels, and reproduce rapidly, initial symptoms may take 2 to 6 weeks to appear, but scabies can still be passed from person to person during this time frame. Symptoms may manifest sooner in individuals who have had scabies before. While animals with scabies can transmit the disease to humans, symptoms will show within 1-3 hours in this scenario, unlike scabies passed from person to person. The scabies mite that is transmitted from animals to humans cannot penetrate the skin and will die shortly after. 

How To Diagnose Scabies?

To identify scabies, a condition that can impact individuals of all age groups globally, a doctor will gather the patient’s medical history and proceeds with a physical examination. While the symptoms caused by the scabies mite usually suffice for diagnosis, there are instances where the doctor may opt for a laboratory test involving a tissue sample. Upon confirmation of scabies, the physician may advise family members to undergo a check-up, even if they exhibit no symptoms. This precaution is necessary due to the elevated risk of scabies transmission among individuals residing in the same household, with symptoms typically manifesting 2 to 6 weeks post-infection.

How Are Scabies Treated?

To effectively address and treat scabies infection, it is essential to utilize antiparasitic medications as directed by healthcare professional. These medications are designed to eliminate the parasite and alleviate symptoms quickly. It is vital to adhere closely to the medication instructions and treatment duration outlined by the doctor. Additionally, individuals who have come into contact with an infected person may also require treatment simultaneously.

Proper administration of scabies treatment typically results in rapid symptom relief within a few days. However, the duration of recovery may vary depending on the severity of the infection on the individual. In instances where scabies prove resistant to standard treatments, it is advisable to consult a dermatologist or infectious disease specialist who may suggest more potent medications or alternative treatment approaches. One should adhere strictly to the medication instructions and follow the recommendations of the treating physician throughout treatment. Close monitoring of resistant scabies is essential, and the guidance of a specialist doctor should be sought to ensure an effective treatment process.

It is crucial to launder and sanitize the clothing, bedding, and other belongings of the infected individual while undergoing scabies treatment at home. Utilizing high temperatures during washing and drying can effectively eliminate parasites. Additionally, individuals who have been in contact with the infected person must also undergo treatment, and strict personal hygiene practices should be followed as per the doctor’s instructions. Treatment should be administered simultaneously to both the infected person and their contacts as soon as possible after being diagnosed.

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