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eMed previously Babylon Health


Edited by Dr Claudia Pastides, 25th April 2019

Scabies is a common skin condition caused by human scabies mites. These tiny parasites burrow under the skin and lay their eggs, causing serious itching and irritation. Scabies is not harmful, and can be treated very easily - but it’s also very contagious, and can spread from person to person quickly. It’s common for members of the same family or those living in the same house to develop scabies around the same time. If you think you or a family member might have scabies, speak to a doctor today to have it diagnosed and discuss the effective treatment options available.

Symptoms of scabies

The clearest symptom of scabies is itching. This usually occurs where there are folds in the skin - elbows, hands, feet and the backs of knees are common places for scabies mites to burrow. The scabies rash itself looks like clusters of tiny red spots. Scratching the rash can cause scaling and crusting of the area, which can be even more uncomfortable for the sufferer.

As the human scabies mites burrow into the skin, they leave small greyish lines which can help doctors to diagnose the condition. You can see these with a magnifying glass. Those with a low immune system, such as babies and the elderly, are more prone to developing scabies.

It can take up to eight weeks for symptoms of scabies to appear after the initial infection. In some households, it’s often too late to take avoidance measures because the mites have already spread. Scabies is very common in confined areas like schools, workplaces or residential homes for the elderly.

How to avoid spreading scabies

Scabies is extremely contagious. The mites themselves can’t fly or jump, but any human body contact can provide the perfect opportunity for them to cross over to another person. It’s rare to contract scabies from clothing/bedding/towels.

Treating scabies

Treatment for scabies involves getting rid of the mites as first priority. Creams and lotions are available to kill the mites - this kind of treatment needs to be repeated 7 days after the first application to ensure mites hatched are killed. Other creams are also available to deal with the itching and irritation.

It’s recommended that all members of your household are treated for scabies, even if they’re not yet showing any symptoms. Everyone in the house should follow the same treatment plan, applying the cream for a number of weeks to be sure the parasites are gone. All towels, linens and clothes in the house should also be washed thoroughly.

If you think you may be suffering from scabies, get in touch with an online GP today.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.