What are Scabies?

Scabies are tiny parasitic mites. They are smaller than a pinhead and burrow into the skin and lay eggs. They are passed on by close body contact.

How does someone get Scabies?

Scabies can be passed from one person to another by close body or sexual contact with someone who has scabies.

The mites that cause scabies can be found in the genital area, on the hands, between the fingers, on the wrists and elbows, underneath the arms, on the stomach, on the feet and ankles, and around the bum.

The mites can live for up to 72 hours off the body, so it is possible for scabies to be spread by clothing, bedding and towels.

What are the symptoms?

It can take up to six weeks after coming into contact with scabies before signs and symptoms appear. You might notice:

Intense itching in the affected areas which may only be noticed at night, or which becomes worse in bed at night or after a hot bath or shower.

An itchy red rash or tiny spots. Sometimes the diagnosis can be difficult because the rash can look like other itchy conditions, such as eczema.

Inflammation or raw, broken skin in the affected areas – usually caused by scratching.

Scabies mites are very tiny and impossible to see with the naked eye. Fine silvery lines are sometimes visible in the skin where mites have burrowed.

Is there a test for Scabies?

A doctor or nurse can often tell if you have scabies just by looking at the affected areas. They may gently take a skin flake from one of the areas and look at it under a microscope to see if there is a mite present.

In some cases, treatment will be suggested if scabies is suspected, even if it cannot be confirmed.

What does treatment involve?

Treatment is simple and involves using a special cream or lotion. The doctor, nurse or pharmacist will advise you on what treatment to use and how to use it.

You will usually need to apply the treatment once and repeat again after seven days. Everyone that you have had close body contact with should be treated at the same time.

You should wash clothing, bedding and towels in a washing machine on a very hot cycle (50°C higher) to kill the mites and avoid re-infection.

Even after successful treatment, the itching or rash may continue for a few weeks. Special tablets or creams (antihistamines), or anti-irritant lotions such as calamine, can ease the itching.