A mite infestation of the skin causing distinctive brown lines and an itchy rash
- Most common in children and young adults
- Living in overcrowded conditions is a risk factor
- Gender and genetics are not significant factors
The skin infestation scabies is caused by a mite that burrows into the outer layer of skin to lay its eggs. For several weeks there are no symptoms, but as the larvae hatch and grow into mites the skin becomes sensitive to the faeces of the mites and intense itching develops.
Scabies can affect people of any age but is most common in children and young adults. It is highly contagious and is spread by close physical contact, especially in overcrowded living conditions. It can be passed on by sexual contact or by prolonged hand-holding.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of scabies appear within 4–6 weeks of infestation and include:
A rash of raised, pinkish-red spots up to 1 cm (
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Widespread itching, which is particularly severe at night.
Light brown lines (burrows), which most often occur between the fingers and toes. In babies, they sometimes appear on the palms and soles.
The itching may occur before the rash appears, and it may persist for up to 3 weeks after the rash has disappeared.
What might be done?
Your doctor will probably be able to make a diagnosis from the appearance of the rash. To confirm the diagnosis, he or she may take a skin scraping for microscopic examination. Scabies is usually treated with an antiparasitic lotion that is applied to the entire body (including the scalp, face, and neck) and washed off after a set period (see Preparations for infections and infestations). A topical corticosteroid may be prescribed to relieve itching. To prevent reinfection, people in close contact with you should be treated too. Clothing and bedding should be washed thoroughly at 50°C (120°F) or above or dry-cleaned. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned should be put in a sealed plastic bag for at least 72 hours to contain the mites until they die.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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