Scabies FAQs

Scabies is a common skin condition caused by a microscopic mite.  Mites that cause scabies burrow into the skin producing pimple-like irritations and severe itching.  Secondary bacterial infections may occur following intense scratching at the site of the burrow. 

Scabies infestation can affect people from all socioeconomic levels without regard to age, sex, race or standards of personal hygiene.  Clusters of cases, or outbreaks are occasionally seen in nursing homes, day care centers and other institutions.

Mites that cause scabies are transferred by direct skin-to-skin contact.  In severe cases indirect transfer from undergarments or bedclothes can occur only if these have been contaminated by an infected person immediately beforehand.

Definitive diagnosis involves demonstrating the presence of the mite by skin scrapings and microscopic examination of the scraped specimen.  This can be done at your doctor’s office; contact your doctor if you believe you may have scabies.

The most prominent symptoms is intense itching, particularly at night.  The areas of the skin most affected by scabies include the webs and sides of the fingers, around the wrists, elbows and armpits, waist, thighs, genitalia, abdomen and lower buttocks.  In infants younger than two years old the symptoms are likely to appear on the neck, hands, and feet.

After exposure, symptoms will appear from 2-6 weeks in people who have not previously been exposed to scabies.  People who have had a previous infestation with scabies symptoms may appear within 1-4 days after subsequent re-exposure.

A person is able to spread scabies until mites and eggs are destroyed, usually after one treatment with an effective anti-scabies medication.  Individuals with scabies should not attend school or daycare, nor enter their workplace until the day after treatment is initiated.  Except in severe cases, inanimate objects such as clothing, bedding or furniture does not spread mites that cause scabies.

Medicated lotions applied to the skin or in severe cases, medication taken by mouth are available through a physician’s prescription for the treatment of scabies.  Sometimes itching may persist for one to two weeks after treatment, but this should not be regarded as treatment failure or re-infestation.  Avoid over treatment with anti-scabies medication.

Avoid physical contact with infested individuals and their belongings, especially clothing and bedding.  In severe cases, clothing and bed linen worn or used by an infested person in the 48 hours before treatment may be laundered and dried at the highest temperature or stored in a container such as a plastic bag for 5-7 days to kill mites and their eggs.  Use of environmental pesticides should be avoided.  Preventive therapy is recommended for household members of an infested person or close contacts of person in nursing homes, day care centers or institutions.