by Rick Alan
Scabies is caused by a tiny mite. An infestation results when the female mite burrows into the skin and lays eggs. The scabies mite does not suck blood. It does not transmit any disease other than scabies between people.
Scabies is highly contagious. Most often, it is passed from person to person through:
Scabies can also spread from person to person by sharing:
Scabies can occasionally also be acquired from certain mammals. It is most common from dogs with sarcoptic mange. Scabies from dogs differs somewhat from human scabies. It rarely passes from person to person.
Children younger than 15 years of age and adults older than 65 years are at greater risk for this condition.
Other factors that may increase the chances of scabies:
Symptoms of scabies include:
In more severe cases, the infested area may:
Scabies rarely affects the face or head. While any other body area, or even the whole body, may be involved, areas most often affected include:
You will be asked about your about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. While scabies can often be diagnosed based on these steps, a skin sample may be taken. The sample is examined under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
It is essential to remove scabies from the living environment to avoid re-infestation after treatment. All bedding and clothing must be thoroughly washed. Other members of the household or facility should be treated.
Scabies is usually treated by applying permethrin cream 5%. It is applied to the skin from the neck down. The cream is left on for 8-12 hours, usually overnight. Excessive use of this medication can be harmful, especially in infants. Carefully read and follow the directions. It is best not to repeat treatments unless told to do so by a doctor.
It may take several weeks for itching to disappear following successful treatment. Itching can be temporarily relieved with:
Some severe cases may respond poorly to treatments. In this case, oral ivermectin is sometimes prescribed. It is given as a single dose that must be repeated after 1 week.
Alternative topical creams include crotamiton 10% and lindane 1%.
Lindane should only be used when other medications have not been effective. Lindane can be toxic. It should not be overused. Follow the directions as given.
To reduce the chances of scabies, avoid close physical contact with anyone who has either had scabies or has had an undiagnosed itchy rash. Do not share their:
To prevent the spread of scabies from one person to another:
American Academy of Dermatology
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Dermatology Association
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Last reviewed March 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 1/29/2021