This patient information on Scabies is provided by John L. Meisenheimer, M.D. a board certified Dermatologist and skin care specialist based in Orlando, Florida. This information is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice or treatment of a dermatologist or other physician.
What is it? Scabies is a very common infestation of the skin. In general terms this disorder is known as "the seven year itch". It can occur at any age, but it is more frequently seen in families with young children. Nursing homes frequently have problems with scabies. Typically it appears as small, intensely itchy, red bumps on the skin. The itching is often worse at night.
What causes it? Scabies is caused by a tiny insect known as an "itch mite". The female mite makes tiny burrows in the skin to lay eggs. The skin becomes irritated and it responds by becoming very itchy. It often takes four to six weeks after infestation for the itching to start, and not everyone who has the infestation itches. Therefore, all close contacts that might be infested need treatment whether they are itching or not.
Is it dangerous? For the typical healthy person scabies is a harmless infestation. It does not involve internal organs. Excessive scratching, especially in young children can lead to secondary bacterial infection.
Can it be cured? Scabies can be cured with treatment. On occasion more than one treatment may be needed. After successful treatment, itching may persist for two to three weeks until the dead insect is shed from the skin.
Will it spread? Scabies can spread to many parts of the body, but it does not affect the face and scalp.
Is it contagious? Scabies is very contagious. It is spread by close physical contact. Sexual partners are at high risk as well as parents of infected children.