CONDITIONS A-Z

Scabies

Scabies is a common skin condition causing intense itching. It's caused by tiny mites burrowing into and under the skin

Anyone can ‘catch’ scabies by coming into physical contact with people who have the condition. You can also catch scabies by wearing the clothes of someone who has scabies or by sleeping in their bed.

Scabies is not caused by being dirty. It can be treated safely and you can stop it from spreading to other people.

What causes scabies?

Scabies is caused by tiny insects, called mites, that burrow under the surface of the skin laying eggs as they go. Above the mite, on top of the skin, small blisters and red patches form. These blisters are very itchy due to an allergic type response to the mite and it’s faeces. The blisters can become infected with bacteria when scratched.

Signs of scabies
  • Intense itching and scratching all over the body – the itch is often worse when you are warm, such as after exercise, a bath or shower or in bed at night. Scabies should be considered for any cases of severe itch lasting weeks or months.
  • Red patches or blisters on the skin – mainly between the fingers, on the wrists, ankles, elbows, ankles, armpits, hands or sides of the feet. In infants not yet walking, the soles of their feet are affected.
  • Burrows on the skin – small threadlike grey lines 5-10mm long and slightly raised.

You may have scabies for weeks before the itching starts and you realise something is wrong. If however you have had scabies before and become re-infected, the itch will develop more quickly – days rather than weeks. The rash may only be seen in some places but scabies affects you whole body.

Scabies Treatment

To kill the mites you need a special lotion or cream that you buy from your pharmacy or have prescribed by your doctor.

  • Scabies affects the whole body (in adults and children over two years of age the face and head are not usually affected) and the cream or lotion must be applied all over – even to areas that are not itchy.

  • Your pharmacist will be help you with how much cream or lotion to use. Always read the instructions before applying.

  • Have a shower and towel dry your body.

  • Once your body has cooled, start applying the cream or lotion behind the ears and from the jaw line down. Apply using a new paintbrush, cotton wool swabs or a sponge.

  • Move downwards and outwards over your whole body. Include the soles of your feet, your back, buttocks and genitals. You may need help to rub the cream into hard to reach places like you back.

  • Finish by applying the cream or lotion between the fingers, toes, and under the nails.

  • If you wash your hands re-apply the cream or lotion.

  • Wash off after the specified time. (usually 8-24 hours).

  • It is best to apply the cream or lotion before going to bed and wash it off in the shower the following morning.

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