Scabies is transmitted by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact. A very common way to get scabies is to shake hands with an infected person. Household members and sexual partners are likely to become infected. Transmission may also occur by sharing clothings, towels and beddings.
You cannot get scabies from pets. Scabies mites only infect humans. Scabies mites can only survive for three or four days if they are away from the human body.
Scabies is contagious and can spread scabies until all the mites and eggs are killed by treatment.
Symptoms of scabies
Scabies symptoms include:
- Itching – often severe and usually worse at night
- Thin, irregular burrow tracks (often in zigzag or '5' pattern) made up of tiny blisters or bumps on your skin
The burrows or tracks typically appear in folds of your skin. Though almost any part of your body may be involved, in adults scabies is most often found:
- Between fingers
- In armpits
- Along the inside of wrists
- On the soles of the feet
- Around breasts
- Around the male genital area
- On buttocks
It is important to start treatment immediately. The longer you wait, the more the mites will spread.
The mite can be killed rapidly by the use of effective medication e.g. benzyl benzoate emulsion, malathion or permethrin. Attention should be paid to the specific instructions on how the medication should be applied.
You may still itch for 4 to 6 weeks after treatment and this is because the body develops a reaction to the dead mite. Your doctor will prescribe antihistamine tablets and steroid creams to control the itch. DO NOT APPLY the anti-scabetic medication repeatedly and excessively.
You should also wash your clothings, bed sheets and towels after treatment since the bugs can live in them.
People who are prone to scabies
Precautions to prevent other people in the household from becoming infected
- People who have multiple sex partners
- Anyone who lives in crowded conditions
- Patients and healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes
- Students, teachers, and other caregivers in day-care centres
- People who live or work in institutions or prisons
- Patients whose immune systems are weakened by illness (e.g. HIV, organ transplant, cancers) or immune-suppressing medications
- Close contact should be avoided. All close contacts, caregivers and spouse may need to get treated if avoidance is impossible.
- All clothes, beddings and towels used by the infected person during the three days before treatment, should be washed in hot water and preferably dried in a hot dryer.
- Caregivers who touch an infected person should wear gloves and long sleeves to prevent mites from getting onto their hands and forearms.