Written by: Deen Kurrimbux

Scabies is a skin condition caused by the parasitic Sarcoptes scabiei mite. It causes intense itchiness and rashes brought on by the host body’s reaction of the immune system to the presence of the mites’ saliva, eggs and faeces. With the unaided eye the mites appear as specks on the surface of the skin. The female mite burrows under the surface and proceeds to lay eggs after the male has roamed around looking for burrow sites and mates with the female.

scabies The eggs hatch 3-4 days later, maturing into adults 10-15 days thereafter and the cycle begins again. About 40-50 eggs are produced and laid in the female mite’s lifetime and an infested person usually has about 12 of these mites.

Scabies in the UK is a common occurrence with about 1 in 1,000 cases recorded per month.   Non-geographically, scabies is found in urban areas and places of overcrowding particularly in refugee camps or nurseries and residential homes where the condition is spread via prolonged (at least 20 minutes) skin contact as the mite cannot jump or fly.

The aforementioned itching is the more prevalent symptom and often starts in the hands as this is where most infestations start due to skin contact (hand shaking etc.). The itch is more intense during the night or straight after a hot bath. Cases have reported that even though the infestation is in the hands, the sensation of itching can be felt all over the body. Other symptoms include mite tunnels which appear as dark or silvery lines between 2-10mm in length. They most commonly occur in the spaces between the fingers, the inside of the wrists, or the hands. It’s likely that these tunnels will not be noticeable until the rash and itching appears. Scabies can aggravate the symptoms of other skin conditions namely eczema and psoriasis and in these situations diagnosing scabies is made more difficult.

Diagnosis of scabies is by observation of the rash and tunnelling signs. If the sufferer has other skin diseases, then a scraping of the skin will be taken for further analysis so as to accurately determine if there is an infestation.

Treating scabies is done with an insecticide called permethrin cream which is available from pharmacies or via a prescription. Re-applying the permethrin seven days after the first application will make sure that all the mites are killed. Hot baths, and scrubbing with soap and water will not cure a scabies infestation. Insecticide must be used.

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