Scabies is a contagious skin infection which itches intensely. It is caused by tiny mites called Sarcoptes scabiei, which burrow into the skin. A GP talks about the causes, symptoms and treatment.

Find out about the causes of scabies

Transcript of Scabies

Hello, I'm Doctor Rob Hicks and I'm a GP working in London.

Scabies is a very contagious skin infection

which causes intense itching all over the body.

It occurs when the scabies mite burrows into the skin,

eating its way into the skin.

It then in the burrow lays eggs which hatch,

and of course when these hatch, the new mites perpetuate the infection.

Scabies is actually very common.

It's more common in children and in women.

It's more common that people get it from schools and living in nursing homes

because it's close proximity. Prolonged physical contact is how people catch it.

It tends to occur in the winter time because people spend more time indoors,

in close proximity with each other.

I think it's very important to highlight that it's not related,

or there's no scientific evidence relating it to poor living conditions

or poor personal hygiene.

Scabies, the mite, will infect anybody, it doesn't mind.

Now, how people get the scabies infection

is through prolonged, close physical contact.

The mite can't jump and it can't fly.

We're talking about things like prolonged hand-holding,

sexual intercourse, sharing a bed with somebody.

Now, thinking of the symptoms of scabies infection, it's intensely itchy,

people just can't settle and they're often clawing at their skin.

This itch is worse at night and certainly after a hot bath or shower.

And often you find red, blotchy marks on the skin

and little lines where the mite has burrowed into the skin.

All these things help the doctor diagnose scabies.

If somebody says they have intensely itchy skin and they can't get relief,

think, "Could be scabies", examine the skin and you may see the red marks

and the thin lines, particularly in the warmer areas of the skin

and that's where the mites like to be.

So in skin creases, between the fingers, under the nails, for example.

If somebody says somebody else within the household also has very itchy skin,

then, that adds weight to the probable diagnosis of a scabies infection.

Now, it's good that treatment of scabies is relatively straightforward.

We recommend using a cream that's put all over the body

that contains an insecticide that kills the mite,

and it's recommended that this treatment is repeated seven days later,

so that any eggs that have hatched in the meantime also get killed by this.

It's very important also that somebody's given a treatment to relieve itching.

A cream or maybe an antihistamine tablet, which may also help

get a decent night's sleep, so they're not tired the next day.

It's also very important that other members of the household are treated,

or sexual partners are treated, even if they haven't got symptoms,

to reduce the risk of becoming infected again.

It's a good idea to boil-wash household linen, clothing, bed-linen and towels

to make sure that any mites that have survived on these articles are killed.

Boil-wash at more than 50 degrees Centigrade.

What's very important is that scabies is a very common infection,

easily treated, and people shouldn't be embarrassed about asking for advice.

They can get this advice from their local genitourinary medicine clinic,

or sexual health clinic, certainly from their GP or practice nurse,

or pop into a pharmacy and ask a pharmacist for advice.


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