Scabies is a skin condition caused by a mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that burrows into the skin, causing itchiness in the affected area. The itching is the result of the body’s allergic reaction to the mite, its eggs and its waste products.
This condition is highly contagious, spreading quickly through physical contact, and contact with personal belongings such as sheets and towels. Because of the contagion factor, an entire family or contact area (a classroom or a section of a nursing home) is often treated to prevent recontamination. Scabies can affect anyone, and at any age. Cleanliness, or lack of it, is not a factor in its transmission.
Signs of Scabies
Although symptoms of scabies may be confused with other allergic reactions, the following are usually indicators:
- Severe itching that is usually worse at night
- Irregular rows of tiny bumps or blisters at the site
- Connected individuals having symptoms at the same time
- Irritation in the folds of the skin
The small rows of blisters that appear on the skin are actually the burrows of the mites. Most commonly, they appear between the fingers, in the armpits, and on the inner wrists, knees, breasts, shoulder blades or buttocks. In men, scabies are often found in the pubic region. Children most frequently show evidence of the infestation on the scalp, face, neck, palms, and soles of the feet.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Scabies
If scabies is suspected, the doctor should be consulted as soon as possible to avoid the risk of infection, and to keep the condition from spreading to others. Scabies is diagnosed by taking a scraping of skin tissue and examining it microscopically. Under the microscope, mites and their eggs will be readily visible. There are several effective medications that treat scabies. While these medications usually quickly kill the mites, itching may persist for weeks after treatment.
Complications of Scabies
While not a serious condition, scabies may lead to other medical problems. If vigorous scratching leads to broken skin, bacterial infections, such as impetigo, may occur. Crusted scabies, a more severe variety of the condition, may have serious consequences for high-risk individuals, including those with weakened immune systems from advanced age or chronic health problems.