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Scabies

Scabies is a skin infection that is mainly passed by close person-to-person contact, including sexual contact. It can also be spread through clothing, bedding, furniture or hard surfaces. People of all ages, including children, can get scabies. Scabies is not always a sexually transmitted infection, but it is spread by close contact and can be easily passed between sex partners.

Causes

Scabies is caused by a tiny mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that gets under the skin and lays eggs.

Symptoms

Symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to the mite. The most common symptoms include:

  • Itching and irritation on hands, armpits, wrists, nipples, waist, abdomen, genitals and thighs
  • Itching often increases at night and after a warm shower

Complications

Frequent scratching can cause sores and skin infections. See your health care provider for ways to deal with the symptoms.

Tests and Diagnosis

Scabies treatment is often based on symptoms such as itchiness and a typical rash. The mites can also be seen under a microscope from skin scrapings. Contact a health care provider if a new rash is seen 7 to 10 days after the first treatment, or if there are signs of a skin infection.

Treatment

Scabies is usually treated with lotions or creams that are applied over the body, below the neck. The treatment is left on for 8 or more hours. Itchiness can last for several weeks after treatment. 

Because scabies is passed through close person-to-person contact, all people in close contact are often treated at the same time. All clothes and bed sheets need to be washed with hot water (50 degrees celsius) or dry-cleaned. Anything that cannot be washed in hot water or dry-cleaned should be put in a sealed airtight plastic bag for one week to kill the lice. Mattresses should be vacuumed.

Some treatments are not safe for children, preganant people or people who are breast-feeding/ chest-feeding, and some seniors. Talk to your health care provider to find out what is the best treatment for you.

Resources

BC Centre for Disease Control – Scabies

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