21 Jul 2011

Scabies

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Scabies is a skin disease caused by tiny mites that live in the skin.

Symptoms

  • Persistent, extremely itchy rash, which may resemble pimples
  • Very fine red wavy lines that are slightly scaly may radiate from the pimple-like bumps – these are the burrows in which the mites lay their eggs
  • Itchiness tends to be worse at night, after a shower, or exercise
  • Scratching sometimes causes the skin to break, resulting in small cuts or sores, which may become infected.
  • As scabies is contagious, it is are most common in situations where people are in close personal contact with each other (for example schools, daycare centres and nursing homes), and is also prevalent amongst people living in unhygienic conditions.
  • Symptoms tend to develop 4-6 weeks after a person becomes infested, and are most likely to affect the hands and arms (specifically the wrist, elbows and between the fingers), knees, shoulder blades, the male genitalia, and, in females, the breasts.

Causes

Scabies mites (Sarcoptes scabiei) are parasites that need a human host in order to survive. The female parasite burrows under the top layer of the skin to lay her eggs. The skin becomes inflamed, red and swollen in response to the presence of the eggs, the mites themselves, and their wastes.

Scabies is spread by direct contact with a person or animal that is infected, and can also be passed on via the sharing of bedding, towels or clothes.

Diet and lifestyle

Talk to your doctor about preparations to eradicate scabies. Meanwhile, the following tips will help prevent re-infection:

  • Wash all items that may be contaminated in hot soapy water. In addition to bedding, towels and clothing, don’t forget to wash pillows, hats, toys and furniture coverings.
  • Put the washed laundry into the dryer on a high heat for at least 20 minutes.
  • Wash combs and brushes in hot soapy water.
  • Place any items that can’t be washed into airtight bags and leave them sealed for two weeks so that the mites die. In some cases it may also be appropriate to place plastic drop cloths over furniture (but don’t do this if there are toddlers in the house, as it may pose a suffocation risk to them).
  • Vacuum carpets, furniture and mattresses and discard the vacuum bag immediately.

Important notes

  • Family members and people who’ve been in close contact with a person with scabies also need to be treated for the infection. Talk to your doctor for more information.