What Is Scabies?
Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by teeny, tiny mites that dig tunnels in the skin's surface. Mites are part of the arachnid family, the same family that includes spiders and ticks. Scabies mites have eight legs and a round body and are microscopic, meaning they're pretty hard to see. When they're fully grown, each mite is no bigger than the size of the point of a pin.
When you get scabies mites, the female mites dig into the top layer of your skin. There they lay eggs and die after about a month. The eggs hatch, and the new mites grow up and come to the skin's surface. The females mate with the males, then the males die and the females dig back under the skin to lay new eggs. This life cycle takes only 2 to 3 weeks.
Anyone can get scabies — little babies, adults, kids like you. The mites aren't picky. They don't care if you're clean, dirty, rich, or poor. All they want is to live on or in the skin of a human being, and any human being will do.
Mites are more common in places where there are lots of people, like college dorms, camps, classrooms, and childcare centers. In crowded places like these, people are often in close contact with each other. When people get close enough, mites move from skin to skin. That's how you can get scabies — from someone who already has them.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptom of scabies is severe itching, which may be worse at night or after a hot bath. A scabies infection begins as small, itchy bumps, blisters, or pus-filled bumps that break when you scratch them. Itchy skin may become thick, scaly, scabbed, and crisscrossed with scratch marks.
The areas of the body most commonly affected by scabies are the hands and feet (especially the webs of skin between the fingers and toes), the inner part of the wrists, and the folds under the arms. It may also affect other areas of the body, particularly the elbows and the areas around the breasts, genitals, navel, and buttocks.
If a child with scabies scratches the itchy areas of skin, it increases the chance that the injured skin will also be infected by bacteria. Impetigo, a bacterial skin infection, may occur in skin that is already infected with scabies.
Scabies infections need to be treated by a doctor. Call the doctor or dermatologist any time your child has a skin itch or rash that will not go away, especially if the itch is worse at night and seems to center around the wrists or the webbed part of the fingers.
If scabies is suspected, the doctor may scrape a small part of the affected skin and examine the scrapings under a microscope for signs of scabies mites.
Although you cannot cure a case of scabies without prescription medication from a doctor, there are certain things you can do at home to keep from re-infecting yourself or your family.
- Wash all clothing, towels, and bed linens that you have used in the last three days. Use hot water. You should use the dryer at high heat rather than air drying. Since the mites can survive on nonliving objects for several days, place the objects that are not machine washable (such as coats and stuffed toys) into a bag and store for a week.
- Cut your nails, and clean under them thoroughly to remove any mites or eggs that may be present.
- Thoroughly vacuum your rugs, furniture, bedding, and car interior and throw the vacuum-cleaner bag away when finished.
- Try to avoid scratching. Keep any open sores clean.
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