The microscopic mite that causes scabies can barely be seen by the human eye. Being a tiny, eight-legged creature with a round body, the mite burrows in the skin. Within several weeks, the patient develops an allergic reaction causing severe itching; often intense enough to keep sufferers awake all night.
Human scabies is almost always caught from another person by close contact. It could be a child, a friend, or another family member. Everyone is susceptible. Scabies is not a condition only of low-income families and neglected children, although, it is more often seen in crowded living conditions with poor hygiene.
Attracted to warmth and odor, the female mite burrows into the skin, lays eggs, and produces toxins that cause allergic reactions. Larvae, or newly hatched mites, travel to the skin surface, lying in shallow pockets where they will develop into adult mites. If the mite is scratched off the skin, it can live in bedding for up to 24 hours or more. It may take up to a month before a person will notice the itching, especially in people with good hygiene and who bathe regularly.
Many cases of scabies can be diagnosed by your dermatologist without special tests. To confirm scabies your dermatologist can perform a painless test that involves applying a drop of oil to the suspected lesion. The site is then scraped and transferred to a glass slide, which is examined under a microscope. A diagnosis is made by finding scabies mites or their eggs.
- 5% permethrin cream is applied to the skin from the neck down at bedtime and washed off the next morning. Dermatologists recommend that the cream be applied to cool, dry skin over the entire body (including the palms of the hands, under finger nails, soles of the feet, and the groin) and left on for 8 to 14 hours. A second treatment one week later may be recommended. Side effect of 5% percent permethrin cream includes mild temporary burning and stinging. Lesions heal within four weeks after the treatment. If a patient continues to have trouble, reinfestation may be a problem requiring further evaluation by the dermatologist.
- 1% lindane lotion is applied from the neck down at night and washed off in the morning. It may be reapplied one week later. Lindane should not be used on infants, small children, pregnant or nursing women, or people with seizures or other neurological diseases, and has been banned in the state of
- 10% percent sulfur ointment and crotamiton cream may be used for infants.
- Ivermectin is an oral medicine which may be prescribed for the difficult to treat crusted form. It is not to be used in infants or pregnant women.
- Antihistamines may be prescribed to relieve itching, which can last for weeks, even after the mite is gone.
- Getting rid of the mites is critical in the treatment of scabies. Everyone in the family or group, whether itching or not, should be treated at the same time to stop the spread of scabies. This includes close friends, day care or school classmates, or nursing homes.
- Bedding on clothing must be washed or dry cleaned.
- See a dermatologist as soon as possible to begin treatment. Remember, although you may be disturbed at the thought of bugs, scabies is no reflection on your personal cleanliness.
- Treat all exposed individuals whether obviously infested or not. Incubation time is 6-8 weeks so symptoms may not show up for a while. If you do not treat everyone, it is as if you were never treated.