Scabies is a common itchy skin condition caused by an infestation of tiny mites (Sarcoptes Scabeii) in the outer layers of the skin. The itching is severe during the nights making it very difficult for a person to sleep. Scabies can develop in any area of the skin, but it is more common on the hands, arms and the skin which is covered by clothing or ornaments.
The symptoms are caused mainly due to the response of the immune system to the saliva, eggs or feces of the mites. When an individual is affected with scabies for the first time, it takes nearly 2 to 6 weeks for the symptoms to appear. The common symptoms include:
- Intense itching of the skin, especially during nights
- Skin rashes in the form of a line of little bumps
- Pimple-like irritations
- Sores associated with scratching of the skin
- Thick crusts in case of severe forms of scabies
Scabies may be mistaken for other skin conditions like acne and mosquito bites. The only symptom that differentiates scabies with other infections is intense persistent itching.
The mites enter the skin through burrows in the superficial layers of the skin. If left untreated, these mites can survive for months and lay eggs, thereby producing the symptoms of scabies.
Scabies is contagious; it can spread from the affected person to a healthy person through close contact of at least 15-20 minutes. In adults, sexual contact is the main cause of spreading of the mites. It can also spread by sharing a bed, furniture or a towel. However, scabies does not spread from animals that have the mites.
The following factors can increase the risk of a person to develop scabies:
- Being a female
- Being a child
- Winter season
- Having a weak immune system
- Having an organ transplant
- Staying in nursing homes, rehab facilities, schools or other such settings
The following complications can occur if proper diagnosis and timely treatment is not done:
- Infection of the sores
- Sepsis due to the spread of the infection into the bloodstream
- Sleep disturbances
- Emotional disturbances
The doctor can easily diagnose scabies by performing a physical examination of the affected area to find burrows. Sometimes, a confirmatory testing may be performed to check for the presence of the mites. This test involves microscopic examination of the affected skin tissue for mites.
Scabies is usually treated with topical scabicidal medicines such as ointments, lotions, and creams which can be applied to the affected skin to get rid of the mites. These topical preparations should be applied at night time during which the mites are highly active. The medicine should be left for the whole night and should be washed off on the following morning. The procedure is repeated for 7 days.
Other medicines that may be prescribed for symptomatic relief may include:
- Topical steroid creams to relieve itching and inflammation
- Antibiotics to fight against the infection of the sores
- Antihistamines to control itching
Oral tablets are prescribed to treat severe or widespread scabies and when the topical treatments are not effective.
There can be worsening of symptoms during the first week of treatment, which will improve later. The itching is reduced after the first week of treatment and is completely healed by fourth-week. It is advised to consult a doctor if the symptoms persist beyond four weeks of treatment.
Treatment is also suggested for the family members and the entire group of people who are in contact with the infected person. Over-the-counter medicines or home remedies cannot eliminate scabies.
Maintaining a good hygiene cannot prevent scabies. The following measures can help to prevent scabies:
- Avoid direct skin-to-skin contact with a scabies infested patient.
- Wash the beddings and towels with hot water after patient’s use.