Scabies is an itchy skin condition that is caused by infestation of certain mites called ‘Sarcoptes Scabiei’. These mites are not visible to the naked eye, but can be seen with a magnifying glass or under the microscope.
The scabies mite can spread by prolonged skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. It can spread rapidly in crowded places where close body contact is frequent such as in nursing homes, extended-care facilities and prisons.
Scabies is caused when the mites Sarcoptes Scabiei burrow through your skin to lay their eggs, which then hatch in about two weeks’ time.
Scabies get transmitted via skin-to-skin contact; sexual contact is the most common form of transmission. You may not catch it on shaking hands with an infected person, but a mother hugging her child can transfer the mites to him/her. Scabies is more likely to develop in those living close together.
Initially, you may not observe any symptoms of the disease; in fact, the symptoms may take months to show. The most commonly experienced signs and symptoms of scabies are an itchy, red, dry and scaly skin. These signs can be easily confused with those of several other skin conditions.
Scabies produces a rash of small red bumps or blisters that may contain blood crusts. These rashes are itchy, particularly at night. The itching begins subtly but gets worse after a month or two of infestation. Besides the red papules, infected people may also see burrows or tunnels in their skin. In children, scabies rashes appear on the head, face, neck, palms and soles of the feet. Scabies can appear on the webs between fingers, wrists, knees, the sides and back of feet, around the nipples, waist, genitals and buttocks in adults.
Check for tracks on the skin and observe if the areas itch. If they do, see a doctor. The doctor will look for burrows that have a unique serpentine pattern. The skin around the burrow may be scraped and examined under a microscope to confirm the mite's presence.
Prescription medications can help get rid of scabies. These medications are applied topically, left on for a certain time period and then washed off. Alternative treatments such as neem oil or tea tree oil may provide relief. The rashes go away in a few weeks time, though the itchiness may persist for weeks.
In addition to standard treatment, the environment that you live in must be clean. Wash all your clothes, bedding and towels in hot water with a strong detergent. Itch mites that cause scabies cannot live outside of the human body; therefore, extensive cleaning of anything other than bedding is not necessary.
Scabies is a difficult skin condition to prevent since it is contagious. If you know someone with the skin condition, it is advised to avoid contact with him/her to keep safe.
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