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Scabies is caused by an eight-legged mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis) that is less than 0.5 mm long. The life cycle of the scabies mite starts when the female tunnels (burrows) into the skin and deposits her eggs. Larvae hatch from the eggs within three to 10 days and molt to become nymphs. Nymphs mature into adults that deposit additional eggs and live approximately four weeks. Burrowing and movement of the mites cause intense itching due to a type of allergic reaction. If the person has never been exposed to scabies before, he or she may not show symptoms until four to six weeks after the initial infestation. Individuals who have been exposed in the past usually show symptoms within a few days.
Where does scabies come from? Scabies is almost always spread by protracted skin-to-skin contact with a person who carries the mite. The mites often begin to burrow at the site where they enter the body. Thus, skin transmission during sexual intercourse results in an infestation in the groin area.
It is important to point out that scabies is not always a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and may be acquired through casual contact. Less commonly, scabies infestation can happen through the sharing of clothes and bedding. Theoretically, you can get scabies from touching something that the mite is on, but that is not a major mode of transmission. The mite only lives for two to three days away from human skin. Scabies mites are not spread by contact with animals or pets.
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