Scabies Symptoms, Causes, Prevention & Treatment



Infections, viruses, genetic predisposition, health conditions, environment, and many other factors induce all sorts of reactions on your skin.

Hundreds of dermatological conditions affect millions of people around the globe and scabies is one of the most prevalent ones.

Disclaimer: is supported by its readers. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

In this post you’re going to learn more about scabies and its causes, symptoms, treatment, and so much more.

What is scabies?

Scabies is a skin infestation caused by a mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. A common mistake that people make is that they refer to scabies as infection.

What’s the difference? Infestation is a term that refers to parasitic diseases caused by animals like mites, ticks, lice, and worms. On the other hand, infections are caused by protozoa, bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Tiny burrowing mites make scabies an itchy and contagious dermatological condition. Also called human itch mites, these tiny eight-legged bugs are so small that we don’t even notice them on our skin.[1]

Although uncomfortable and frustrating, the infestation can be treated successfully. If left untreated, the condition can worsen, and symptoms become even more frustrating to handle.

How common is scabies?

Scabies is one of the most prevalent dermatological conditions in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), scabies affects over 130 million people at any time.

Rates of this skin condition in the recent literature vary from 0.3% to 46%.[2] Some reports also show that scabies affects over 300 million people worldwide each year, including one million people in the United States.[3]

High prevalence of scabies outlines the contagious nature of this infestation and serves as a reminder that we need to be proactive in terms of preventing and treating this problem.

Causes of scabies

As mentioned above, scabies occurs when an eight-legged mite burrows itself under the skin. The female mite lays its eggs in the tunnel she just created.

Once the eggs hatched, larvae start to move up to the surface of the skin and spread across an affected person’s body. They can also move and spread to the other person through physical contact.

Besides humans, mites also affect dogs and cats. It’s important to mention that each species is affected by different kind of mites.

Sometimes humans experience a mild reaction to mites that usually affect animals, but it’s rare to get a full-blown infestation from those mites. That being said, only humans get this type of scabies.

Scabies can spread from one person to another through close physical contact, sharing a towel, bedding, furniture, and other things.

However, you are unlikely to get scabies by hugging a person or through a handshake. Physical contact needs to be a little longer than that to allow mites to crawl from one person to another.

Risk factors of scabies

Everyone can get scabies, but some people are at a higher risk than others. People who are more susceptible to scabies than others include:

  • Children
  • Hospitalized patients
  • Residents of assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, and extended-care facilities
  • Mothers of young children
  • Prison inmates[4]
  • Sexually active young adults
  • Persons with the weakened immune system
  • Elderly individuals, particularly if they have a weak immune system due to HIV/AIDS, leukemia, and lymphoma
  • People who have received an organ transplant

Symptoms of scabies

It takes between two to six weeks for symptoms to appear after exposure to scabies. If you’ve had scabies before symptoms may develop more quickly. In that case, itching may begin one to four days.

Scabies mites can live for as long as one to two months on a person.[5] The most common signs and symptoms of scabies include:

  • Intense itching that worsens at night
  • Pimple-like rash
  • Sores caused by scratching
  • Blisters or scales

Body parts affected by scabies

Scabies can affect any part of the body, but in older children and adults it usually develops in:

  • Area between fingers
  • Elbows
  • Wrists
  • Buttocks
  • Penis
  • Waist
  • Armpits
  • Nipples

In babies and toddlers scabies usually affects:

  • Head
  • Face
  • Neck
  • Hands
  • Soles of the feet

How is scabies diagnosed?

If you (or your child) have signs and symptoms of scabies make sure to schedule an appointment and see your doctor. This is particularly important because scabies may resemble other skin conditions such as eczema.

In order to treat symptoms effectively, your doctor needs to diagnose the problem. A physical exam is, in most cases, enough for a doctor to diagnose scabies. During the exam, your doctor looks for burrows in the skin.

When burrows are located, the healthcare provider may take a scraping from that area to examine it under a microscope to determine whether there are mites or eggs.

How is scabies treated?

Timely treatment of scabies is crucial to avoid worsening of symptoms and potential complications such as crusted or Norwegian scabies which affect large areas of the body. This particular scabies is highly contagious and difficult to treat.

The treatment of scabies revolves around the use of medications to eliminate infestations. Doctor or dermatologist usually prescribes some creams or lotions their patients should use.

Medications are usually applied on the whole body and patients should leave them on for eight to 10 hours. Some of these medications include:

  • Lindane lotion
  • Permethrin cream (Elimite)
  • Ivermectin (Stromectol)
  • Crotamiton (Eurax)

Bear in mind that although these creams and lotions may treat mites quickly, itching sometimes remains for a few weeks.

In some cases, doctors prescribe antihistamines, antibiotics, and steroid creams to alleviate other bothersome symptoms of scabies.

Things you can do to treat scabies

Besides adhering to doctor-recommended treatment, there are some things you can do to improve management of this condition. For example[6] :

  • Soak in cool water or an oatmeal bath
  • Wash all bedding, towels, clothes and dry in a dryer
  • Vacuum your entire home
  • Don’t treat pets


In order to prevent scabies, you need to avoid direct skin-on-skin contact with an infected per-son. At the same time, you also need to avoid sharing clothes, bedding, towels, and other objects with an infected individual.


Scabies is a contagious infestation caused by tiny mites. The infection can be treated successfully, but it’s important to see the doctor as soon as symptoms appear to get prescription for medications that eliminate mites and other symptoms.


  1. Scabies, American Academy of Dermatology [Link]
  2. Lymphatic filariasis: Scabies, WHO [Link]
  3. What does scabies look like? Medical News Daily [Link]
  4. Who get scabies? Web MD [Link]
  5. Scabies frequently asked questions (FAQs), CDC [Link]
  6. See above #1

Spread the love

One Response

  1. Tim Yaotome May 16, 2019 Reply

Leave a Reply