Scabies is a type of contagious skin infection that is caused by eight-legged microscopic mites which is known as Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites can survive on the skin for up to two months and they reproduce on the surface of the skin. Scabies causes itchiness and rashes on the skin.
Scabies is a very contagious infection and it can spread from one person to the other by physical contact. It can also be transferred from clothes and bedding that is infested. Therefore, there is a possibility of an outbreak in cases like a family home, child care centers, schools, nursing homes, prisons etc. There are around 300 million cases of scabies reported every year all around the world.
This skin infection can affect individuals of any age group, young or old regardless of their living condition and socioeconomic status.
If an individual is infected with scabies then that individual and any other person with whom he/she has any physical contact must be treated at the same time.
Although scabies is a troublesome infection, it can be treated effectively. The treatment is by medications which kill the mites and their eggs.
What are the symptoms of scabies?
After being exposed to the mites and getting infected with scabies, it normally takes around six weeks for the symptoms to be visible. The symptoms occur faster in people who have been infected with this disease before.
The main symptoms of scabies are rashes and itching and the itchiness increases in the night. By constantly scratching the area which is infected, sores can be formed and this gets infected. And if this happens, then there may be a need for antibiotics to treat the skin infections.
In small babies the most common sites that get infected are the head, face, neck, hands and soles of the feet. And in children and adults the common sites that are more prone to infection are the wrist, elbow, area between fingers, armpits, nipples, penis, waist and buttocks.
The rash which is formed on the skin will have blisters and small bumps. The burrow tracks of the mites will be visible on the skin in the form of small raised and discolored lines.
Some individuals develop a different form of scabies which is more intense and highly contagious. This type of scabies is known as Norwegian scabies or crusted scabies. Individuals with this type of scabies get formation of thick crusts on the skin which contains lots of mites and its eggs. There may not necessarily be an itchy rash in crusted scabies. But it can cause other signs like widespread crusts which are thick, gray and can be easily crumbled when touched. Individuals with weak immune system are more likely to get crusted scabies. This will include the following individuals;
- Those with HIV/AIDS
- Those who use some steroids or specific drugs for treating rheumatoid arthritis
- Those who are undergoing chemotherapy for treating some type of cancer
The main reason it affects these individuals is because the Sarcoptes scabiei mites can overpower the weak immune system easily and multiply at a rapid speed.
How is scabies transmitted?
Scabies can be transmitted from one person to the other in the following ways;
- Skin to skin contact for a long period of time for example holding hands
- Intimate physical contact such as having sex
- Sharing cloths, bedding, towels etc that have been used by person who has scabies infection
Since scabies is spread more through physical contact, it is most likely that the infection will get transferred to the close family members, friends and sexual partners. Scabies spreads more in the following places;
- Day care centers or playschools
- Schools and colleges
- Nursing homes
- Sports teams
How can scabies be diagnosed?
Normally, the doctor will be in a position to diagnose scabies by conducting a physical examination and inspecting the area of the skin which is affected. At times, the doctor will remove a mite from the needle to conform the diagnosis. And in cases where the mites cannot be easily found, the doctor will scrape a tiny portion of the skin to get a tissue sample. This sample will then be examined with a microscope to conform if there are Sarcoptes scabiei mites or their eggs.
How can scabies be treated?
Treatment of scabies is normally done by getting rid of the infection by killing the mites and their eggs by applying prescribed ointments, creams or lotions. These medications have to be applied directly on the skin that is infected.
The doctor may suggest applying the medication at night; since this is the time the mites are very active. There may be a need to treat all the skin from below the neck. The medicine will have to be washed away in the morning.
At times, the doctor may prescribe additional medications to help the patient get some relief from the symptoms that are caused by this infection, which include;
- Antihistamines which can help to reduce the itchiness
- Antibiotics for treatment against any infection that is caused on the skin due to continuous scratching
- Steroid creams to give some relief from the inflammation and itching
For individuals who have severe scabies infection may require a different treatment option. The doctor may suggest an oral tablet which is known as ivermectic to the following individuals;
- Those who find no improvement in the symptoms after being treated with the medications mentioned above
- Those who are infected with crusted scabies
- Those who are infected with scabies in most of the parts in their body
In the first week of treatment, the individuals may feel that the symptoms are increasing and becoming more severe. But by the second week, there will be reduction in the itchiness and there might be complete cure by the fourth week. If the skin does not get healed completely with treatment for a month it could indicate that the skin is still infested with the mites. And in such a scenario, one must consult the doctor so that the necessary changes or alterations can be made in the medications.
How to get rid of scabies?
Scabies mites can survive for 48 to 72 hours after falling out of the body of a person. So if a person has to take the necessary steps to avoid re-infestation. One must wash their cloths, bedding, towels, pillows etc.; in very hot water and once it is washed it must be dried in a dryer in high temperatures for around 10 – 30 minutes. If any of the items cannot be washed it must be vacuumed, after which the vacuum bag must be thrown and the vacuum cleaner should be cleaned with bleach and hot water.