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Scabies is an itchy condition of the skin caused by a tiny mite, called Sarcoptes Scabiei, that burrows into the top layer of the skin and lays eggs.  The mite is about .4mm and can be seen with the human eye. The rash and the itch are widespread and may occur on parts of the body where mites are not burrowed under the skin.

Scabies is not a result of bad personal hygiene. Scabies can occur to anyone. Scabies infestations 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 health care facilities, institutions, educational facilities and child care centers.

You can get scabies by:

  • having skin‑to‑skin contact with a person who has scabies; 
  • sharing clothes, towels, bedding, or sleeping bags with a person who has scabies.

Scabies can cause an itchy rash that is most often on the wrists, in the creases of the elbows and/or knees,and between the fingers.  Though almost any part of the body may be involved, in adults and older children scabies is most often found:

  • Between the fingers
  • In the armpits
  • Around the waist
  • Along the insides of the wrists
  • On the inner elbows
  • On the soles of the feet
  • Around the breasts
  • Around the male genital area
  • On the buttocks 
  • On the knees

In infants and young children, common sites of infestation usually include the:

  • Scalp
  • Palms of the hands 
  • Soles of the feet

The rash might be tiny red bumps, small blisters, white lines, pimple like rash or look like scratch marks.  The itching often gets worse when the body is warm (e.g., after a warm bath, at night when you’re covered with blankets).

It can take weeks before you have symptoms (2-6 weeks). But, scabies can spread from person to person before the rash and itching starts.  People who have had a previous bout with scabies mites may show symptoms within one to four days after subsequent re-exposures. A person is able to spread scabies until mites and eggs are destroyed by treatment.

Humans spread scabies to one another. It is often spread from one person to another by close contact. Since the scabies mite is not able to jump or fly, the only way to acquire the infection is by direct contact with an infected person or by contact with infected linens, clothing, or furniture.

If someone has scabies, everyone who lives with that person must be treated at the same time (even if there is no rash or itching). Anyone who has had skin‑to‑skin contact or shares clothes, towels, or bedding with the person who has scabies must be treated.  

Adults and children who have scabies must stay home from school and daycare until they’ve been treated.

Scabies doesn’t go away without treatment. The scabies mite can live up to 4 days without human body contact.  Follow these steps and do all steps on the same day.

  1. Treat scabies with a special cream or lotion that kills mites. You can buy it at a drugstore without a prescription. Follow the package directions or ask a pharmacist. Put the lotion on the whole body from the neck down. Put clean clothes on after treatment. Talk to your pharmacist, doctor, or nurse if you have questions or if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or treating a child under 2.
  2. Immediately after applying the treatment for scabies you must treat all clothes, towels, facecloths, furniture, carpets, mattresses, bedding, throw pillows and cloth toys used during treatment and any unwashed items used 2 to 3 days before treatment. 
  3. Wash all items in hot water (50 °C) and put them in a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes on the hottest setting. Wear gloves when doing laundry and discard immediately after. 
  4. If any items can’t be washed, have them dry‑cleaned or loosely pack them in a sealed plastic bag. Put the bag in the freezer for 7 days.
  5. Vacuum mattresses, pillows, rugs, beds, and furniture.  Start with a fresh vacuum bag and discard in sealed plastic bag when done. 
  6. All washable surfaces (tabletops, counter top, floors, and bathrooms) must be thoroughly washed with your usual cleanser.

The itching and rash might not go away for days or weeks. If the itching doesn’t get better (or it gets worse and it’s been at least 2 weeks after treatment), talk to your nurse or doctor. You may need to repeat the treatment.

Information was obtained from Alberta Health, CDC and Mayo Clinic.

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