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Scabies Overview

  • Scabies is a contagious skin condition caused by a small mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis).
  • The mite lays eggs in human skin, which hatch and grow into adult mites. This means that signs and symptoms of the skin condition can last for months or even years.
  • Symptoms and signs of scabies include generalized intense itching; the condition is sometimes called the "seven year itch."
  • Symptoms and signs of scabies on the skin vary and may include short, linear, or nodular "burrows" between the fingers, tiny red bumps and blisters on the skin, or a widespread, crusted rash. Often, there are no visible skin lesions.
  • The mite is spread from person to person by skin-to-skin 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 can affect anyone, but it is particularly common in congested areas, such as nursing homes and hospitals, where it can spread widely.
  • The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that only prescribed medications be used to treat scabies.
  • The majority of uncomplicated scabies infections are treated by primary-care providers or pediatricians.
  • In people who have poor immune systems or who are malnourished, scabies can cause a syndrome called "crusted scabies" or "Norwegian scabies," which is highly contagious and is associated with skin thickening and a scaly rash.

What Is Scabies?

Scabies is a disease characterized by severe itchy skin and a reddish rash that is contagious from person to person. It is caused by a mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis) that burrows into the skin. Although it can be transmitted by sexual contact, there is controversy about labeling it a sexually transmitted disease (STD or STI) because it can also be transmitted by nonsexual physical contact.

Last Reviewed 8/30/2017

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Scabies Treatment and Prevention

If a household member becomes infested with scabies, the goal of treatment (for example, with a mite-killer such as permethrin [Elimite] or lindane [Kwell]) is also to prevent infestation of household contacts. Therefore, treatment is usually recommended for all close contacts of the affected person. The treatment should occur for the affected individual and his/her close contacts at the same time in order to prevent re-exposure. Permethrin can be used on infants 2 months and older; lindane is not recommended for use in children.

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Scabies »

Human scabies is an intensely pruritic skin infestation caused by the host-specific mite, Sarcoptes scabiei var hominis.

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