Everything about scabies involves itching. Its main symptom is a fierce, intense itch. The condition is caused by a tiny mite sometimes called an itch mite. Even the name comes from the Latin word for “itch.”

This preoccupation with the itch is very telling about this skin disorder. Scabies rightly deserves the reputation for itching. Each female mite produces an extremely itchy rash as it burrows into the skin, laying eggs, for three to four weeks.

The eggs themselves cause a further potent allergic itch, multiplying the victim’s suffering. The scratching that a person does to alleviate the agonizing itch can complicate the symptoms by introducing bacteria and causing other conditions like eczema.

A parasite, sarcoptes scabiei, burrows into skin and causes the condition scabies. The female mite causes the bulk of scabies’ effects during her one to two month life cycle.

She spends the majority of that time burrowing into a host’s skin, laying two to three eggs per day in S-shaped burrows. These eggs hatch into larvae after three or four days and crawl to the surface where they search out hair follicles. There, they form molting burrows where they feed and grow. After another three or four days, the male mites leave their burrows and find females’ burrows where they mate. The females then leave their molting burrows and begin to tunnel into the skin, laying eggs for the duration of their individual lives.

Symptoms of Scabies

Scabies produces an itchy rash with small red bumps and blisters. The itch of scabies is very intense and persistent, and sometimes increases at night. It likes to affect certain areas of the body more than others. Scabies may often involve the:

  • Webs between fingers
  • Wrists and the backs of the elbows
  • Knees
  • Area of the waist and bellybutton
  • Armpits
  • Around the nipples
  • Sides and backs of the feet
  • Groin
  • Buttocks

Scabies mites do not live very long away from the human body. For this reason, it takes close person-to-person contact usually even skin-to-skin to transmit the tiny arthropods. It is very hard to contract scabies from casual contact or even from others’ clothing. Sexual intimacy is the most common way scabies is spread, but through prolonged interaction and an increased number of opportunities, family members and close friends may pass the scabies mites to each other.

Because of the requirement of this close contact to spreading the disease, the best way to avoid scabies is to limit contact with those you know to be infected. If that person is a significant other, make sure he or she is treated and wash the bedding in hot water.

Treatment for Scabies

Despite its aggressive symptoms, scabies can be treated quite easily. An antihistamine can help take away some of the fierceness of the itch. Topical mite killing creams can be applied before bed and washed off in the morning. This application is usually repeated a week later. Oral medications, too, are usually taken again some time later. In the meantime, bedding should be washed in hot water to kill any lingering mites. They have a hard time surviving away from the human body, so minimal precautions will be effective in eliminating them.

It is also important to make sure anyone with whom you have close contact with takes appropriate steps. It usually takes intimate or prolonged skin-to-skin contact to transmit the mites, but anyone in your family who also displays symptoms of scabies may have gotten it.

The best things to do for scabies are to alleviate the itching and kill the mites causing it. Antihistamine creams are pretty good at providing some relief from the itch. This helps prevent one from exacerbating the condition by scratching open the skin and introducing bacteria. The most effective way to kill the mites is with either topical or oral medication, but both are potentially toxic, so you must examine all the pros and cons of each remedy.


British estimates put the rate of infection in their population at about 2%. It’s safe to assume that the rest of the West has similar numbers. Certain environments like nursing homes are often more conducive to spreading the mites, so these places may experience epidemics of them among the residents and staff.

Though scabies can be an extremely uncomfortable condition, it is, mercifully, rather easy to treat. It is also difficult to pass from one to another because of the mites’ natural vulnerabilities. Initially, the symptoms of scabies may appear to be from other skin conditions, or even mosquito bites, but one can be pretty certain of a diagnosis by scabies persistent, and namesake, itching.

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