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What is Scabies?

Scabies is an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei). The microscopic scabies mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and lays its eggs. The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash. The scabies mite is usually spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies.

Scabies is found worldwide and affects people of all races and social classes. Scabies can spread rapidly under crowded conditions where close body and skin contact is frequent.

How Do Scabies Develop?

The mite that causes scabies is microscopic, and can barely be seen by the human eye. The mite; a tiny creature with a round body burrows itself within the skin, causing an allergic reaction. This results in severe itching, often intense enough to render sufferers sleepless.

Human scabies is mostly caught from close contact with another person. Dermatologists point out that scabies isn’t a sing of poor hygiene – no one is immune. Attracted to warmth and odor, the female mite is drawn to a new host. It then makes a burrow, lays its eggs and produces secretions that cause an allergic reaction. Larvae hatch from the eggs and travel to the skin surface, lying in shallow pockets where they will develop into adult mites. A month may pass before a newly-infested person will notice the itching.

What Do I Look For?

woman scratching her arm

The earliest and most common symptom of scabies is itching, especially at night. An early scabies rash will show up as little red bumps, like hives, tine bites or pimples. In more advanced cases, the skin may be crusty or scaly.

Scabies will usually begin in the folds and crevices of the body— mites tend to hide in, under the nails. In children there is usually a more generalized itching. Infestation may involve the entire body, including the palms, soles and scalp. Children may be irritable as a result of loss of sleep from itching and scratching throughout the night.

Bacterial infection along with scabies may occur. In many cases, children are treated because of infected skin lesions rather than for the scabies itself. Although treatment of bacterial infections sometimes provides relief, recurrence almost certain if the scabies infection is not treated.

What is Crusted or Norwegian Scabies?

Crusted scabies is a form of the disease in which the symptoms are far more severe than usual. Large areas of the body, hands and feet may be scaly and crusted. These crusts hide thousands of live mites and their eggs, making treatment difficult because medications applied directly to the skin
may not be able to penetrate the thickened skin. This type of scabies occurs mostly among AIDS patients and in the elderly.

Many cases of scabies can be diagnosed by dermatologists through examination alone. If there is any doubt, the doctor can do a simple diagnostic test. This test involves applying a drop of sterile mineral oil to the suspected lesion. The site is scraped with a scalpel over tightly stretched skin. The scraping is then transferred to a microscope. If scabies is present, mites or their eggs will be found.

Who is The Most at Risk?

Studies of families have shown that children under years two of age are most at risk, followed by mothers and older female siblings and then by other family members who have frequent, close physical contact.

Scabies is common among resident patients of nursing homes and extended care facilities. These patients are more vulnerable to infection because of lowered or weakened immunological defenses and frequent close physical contact through their daily routines – dressing, bathing, etc. – provided by institutional staff.

Delayed diagnosis of the disease is common because scabies can often be mistaken for other skin conditions such as dry skin, eczema, contact dermatitis, impetigo or a drug reaction or other conditions common in elderly patients.

How are Scabies Treated?

Scabies is easy and quick to treat with a prescription cream. There are different creams available and are constantly being improved upon so your dermatologist will choose the one that is best for your condition and situation. Antihistamines may also be prescribed to help relieve the itching, which can last up to 2 weeks. It is imperative to get rid of the mite in the treatment of scabies. Each individual in the group, whether itching or not, should be treated to stop an epidemic. In a family, all members should be treated at the same time, as well as other who are in close contact, such as friends, and sometimes day care or school classmates.

Scabies in institutions can be kept to manageable levels by routinely examining patients and conduction thorough skin exams of all new residents. The most successful, cost-effective approach is to treat all patients and healthcare personnel at the same time.

What Can You do About Scabies?

If you suspect that you may have Scabies, it is imperative that you see a dermatologist as soon as possible. Treatment must be started as soon as
possible. It is important to remember that scabies is not a reflection of your personal cleanliness. Wash clothing, bed linens and towels in hot water,
and machine dry after treatment. Vacuum the entire house and discard the bag when you’re finished, just to be on the safe side.

What Not to Do

Do NOT attempt to treat scabies by yourself without professional help! Home remedies such as scrubbing with or applying home solutions may make
the situation worse by irritating your skin, causing harm to it, or resulting in possible lesions on your skin if dangerous chemicals are used.
Do not use steroids or any other creams unless prescribed by a dermatologist.

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