Scabies is a very contagious skin condition that is caused by a mite that is so small it can only be seen with a magnifying glass or under a microscope. The mite cannot live more than three days without a human host, but it can survive up to a month when living on a human. The mite also lays eggs in human skin, which hatch and grow into adult mites. This means that symptoms of the condition can last for months or even years.
The rash caused by bites from the scabies mite is extremely itchy and is sometimes called "the seven-year itch." The rash can be subtle, and sometimes scabies is hard to diagnose. The mite is spread from person to person by close contact. Animals can harbor a similar mite, but when the animal mite is passed to people, it cannot reproduce and dies within a few days.
Scabies affect everyone regardless of age, gender, race, social class, or personal-hygiene habits. However, a major risk factor is being a household member or sexual partner of an affected individual. Scabies is also common in congested areas, such as nursing homes and hospitals, where it can spread widely. In people who have poor immune systems or who are malnourished, scabies can cause a syndrome called "crusted scabies" or "Norwegian scabies," which causes skin thickening and a scaly rash.
Other conditions are sometimes confused with scabies. The scabies mite has no relation to body lice, although the treatment of the resulting skin disease is sometimes the same. Scabies is also different from bedbug bites. In contrast to scabies, bedbugs are visible to the naked eye and can live for long periods of time without feeding. Chiggers are a type of mite that can feed off human blood, but unlike scabies, they are acquired through contact with vegetation and feed for only a few days. Less commonly, the rashes of other skin diseases such as ringworm, shingles, eczema, allergic reactions (hives), or impetigo may be confused with that of scabies.
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