Diagnosing scabies 

Your GP should be able to diagnose scabies from the appearance of your skin, and by looking for the burrow marks of the Sarcoptes scabiei mite.

However, as scabies is spread very easily, it's often possible to make a confident diagnosis if more than one family member has the same symptoms.

Read more about the symptoms of scabies.

Your GP will also want to rule out other skin conditions that may be causing your symptoms, such as eczema or impetigo (a highly contagious bacterial skin infection).

Ink test

The burrows of scabies mites can be identified by using an ink test. Ink is rubbed around an area of itchy skin before being wiped off with an alcohol pad.

If scabies burrows are present, some of the ink will remain and will have tracked into the burrows, showing up as a dark line.

To confirm the diagnosis, a skin sample may be gently scraped from the affected area so it can be examined under a microscope for evidence of scabies mites, their eggs and faeces (poo).

Check up

Visit your GP if you think you have scabies. If you think you have genital scabies or your partner has been diagnosed with it, visit your nearest sexual health clinic, where you'll be examined and, if necessary, treated.

If you decide to treat scabies yourself, you'll need to have a full sexual health check to make sure you don't have any sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

To prevent reinfection, it's important that all members of your household are treated, as well as any sexual partners you've had over the last six weeks (in the case of genital scabies). If you've had genital scabies in the past, anyone you've had sex with in the previous 48 hours will need to be treated.

If you're embarrassed about contacting previous sexual partners, your GP surgery or local sexual health clinic may be able to inform them that they've been exposed to scabies on your behalf without disclosing your identity.

Sexual health clinics

Some sexual health clinics operate on a walk-in basis. Others work by appointment only. It's therefore a good idea to call first.

When you attend a clinic, you'll be asked for your name, date of birth and contact details. These details will be treated confidentially and won't be passed on to your GP without your agreement.

You'll also be asked about your sexual history, including:

  • when you last had sex
  • whether you used condoms
  • whether you've had an STI in the past 
  • whether you're taking any medication

If you're attending a clinic for scabies, you may also be offered tests for STIs.

Page last reviewed: 12/08/2014

Next review due: 12/08/2016