What is Scabies?

Scabies is a parasitic infestation of the skin by a microscopic eight legged mite Sarcoptes scabiei. Only 300 micron in length, it burrows into the skin and causes an intense itchy skin reaction. Itching occurs more commonly at night.

An early scabies rash will show up on the skin as a line of tiny blisters or little red bumps. In more serious cases, the skin might be crusty or scaly. The full life cycle takes place in the skin where it lives and lays eggs.

Who is at risk?

Scabies can affect anyone. Mites are transferred through direct skin-to- skin contact. This usually occurs through sexual contact, children playing, or in settings where people have to live in close proximity to one another. Very rarely are the mites transferred via clothing and bedding.

Contact must be prolonged (a quick handshake or hug will usually not spread infestation). Infestation is also easily spread to household members. Anyone can get scabies regardless of age, sex, race or standards of personal hygiene.

Immunocompromised people and the elderly are at risk for a more severe form of scabies, called crusted or Norwegian scabies.

Typical scabies lesions on the skin
Scabies pustules on the wrist
Crusted scabies


A severely itchy rash with red patches, usually between the fingers, around the wrists, and on the elbows, armpits, navel, nipples, lower abdomen, and genitals may occur. Itching may also present under your rings, bracelet, and watchband, where scabies mites like to hide. Generally the face is not affected since scabies mites rarely venture above the neck. Itching is usually most intense after a hot bath or at night and may keep you awake. Curvy white or thin red lines where the mites have burrowed under your skin (these are visible in only about 25 percent of people with scabies) might occur. Nasty-looking scabs might also form over the scratched areas where a bacterial infection may develop.

Four to six weeks may pass from the time the bugs latch onto you until itching starts. If you've had scabies before, the wait will last only one to three days.

Crusted or Norwegian scabies, a more severe and highly infectious form of the illness, may also develop. If so, hands, feet, and trunk will be scaly and crusted, with innumerable live mites hiding under the crusts. Often there will be little or no itching. Crusted scabies is most often found among the elderly and among people with AIDS.

Read about the fascinating discovery of scabies during the 1600's


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