WHAT CAUSES SCABIES?
Scabies is a skin infestation caused by a tiny mite called Sarcoptes scabiei.
HOW IS IT TRANSMITTED?
It is usually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. This can be sexual, or other close contact (such as sleeping in the same bed as a person infected or simply skin contact between children when playing). Scabies mites can survive away from the body for about 24-36 hours, so it is possible to contract scabies from sources such as bed linen and clothing, although this is much less common.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS?
The main symptom of scabies is itching. This is usually intense, typically worse at night and after a hot shower or bath, and can involve large areas of the body. There is often a rash but it is usually minor compared with the itch. Scabies mites burrow into the skin, and the burrows may be visible particularly between the fingers, on the wrists, inner elbows, abdomen and genitals. These too are often difficult to see. In the genital area itchy bumps may be present.
HOW LONG UNTIL SYMPTOMS DEVELOP?
Symptoms typically develop 3-4 weeks after infection. However in people who have previously been exposed they may occur within 24-48 hours, because the immune system takes less time to respond.
HOW DO YOU TEST FOR SCABIES?
Scabies is often recognised by its typical signs and symptoms. In some cases a skin scraping may be taken to confirm diagnosis.
HOW IS SCABIES TREATED?
Scabies is usually treated by applying a topical antiscabies cream to the skin. At Melbourne Sexual Health Centre 5% Permethrin (Lyclear, Quellada) is usually used.
For the scabies to be effectively treated you should follow these instructions carefully:
- Have a shower and dry the skin
- Apply the cream to the whole body from the chin down, paying special attention to the spaces between the fingers, under the nails, the soles of the feet, the genitals and between the buttocks.
- Do not wash your hands afterwards.
- The cream should be left on for 12-24 hours (e.g. overnight). You can wash it off afterwards. If washed off sooner it should be reapplied.
- Wash bedding, recently worn clothing and towels in hot water at the same time as your treatment. As mites die if they are not in contact with the human body for some time, storing clothes and shoes in a plastic bag for a week is also effective.
- Close contacts such as family members and sexual partners should be treated at the same time.
- The treatment may need to be repeated in one week to kill mites, which have recently hatched.
- It is important to contact any sexual partners or other close contacts so that they can be treated too.
I FOLLOWED THE TREATMENT INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY, SO WHY AM I STILL ITCHY?
Symptoms can persist for around 2-3 weeks, even if the scabies has been effectively treated. The itch is caused by your body’s immune system responding to the mites, and this can take time to settle down. There are treatments available to help with the itch such as antihistamines and cortisone creams so talk to your doctor or pharmacist if it is a problem. If symptoms persist for longer than 2-3 weeks you should see your doctor for review.
CAN I STILL INFECT OTHERS AFTER I’M TREATED?
Scabies usually stops being infectious 24 hours after treatment.
HOW DO I AVOID GETTING SCABIES AGAIN?
The best way to avoid getting reinfected is to follow the treatment instructions carefully, and make sure all close contacts are treated at the same time.
DOES HAVING SCABIES MEAN THAT SOMEONE HAS POOR PERSONAL HYGIENE?
No. Scabies can infect anyone, regardless of how often you wash.
This fact sheet is designed to provide you with information on Scabies. It is not intended to replace the need for a consultation with your doctor. All clients are strongly advised to check with their doctor about any specific questions or concerns they may have. Every effort has been taken to ensure that the information in this pamphlet is correct at the time of printing.Last Updated October 2017