Scabies

What is it?

Scabies is caused by tiny parasitic mites which burrow into the skin and lay eggs. Scabies mites are smaller than a pinhead.

The mites that cause scabies can be found:

  • in the genital area
  • on the hands
  • between the fingers
  • on the wrists and elbows
  • underneath the arms
  • on the abdomen
  • on the breasts (around the nipples in women)
  • on the feet and ankles
  • around the buttocks

How do I catch it?

Scabies can be passed from one person to another by close body contact or sexual contact.

The mites can live for up to 72 hours off the body, so it's possible for scabies to be spread by clothing, bedding and towels.

Symptoms

You might notice:

  • intense itching in the affected areas, which may only be noticed at night, or which becomes worse in bed at night or after a hot bath or shower
  • an itchy red rash or tiny spots. Sometimes diagnosis can be difficult because the rash can look like other itchy conditions, such as eczema
  • inflammation or raw, broken skin in the affected areas – usually caused by scratching

It can take up to six weeks after coming into contact with scabies before signs and symptoms appear.

Testing

Diagnosis of scabies is made by careful examination.

Treatment

Treatment for scabies is simple and involves using a special cream, lotion or shampoo which can be purchased over the counter from a pharmacy.

You should wash your clothing, bedding and towels in a washing machine on a very hot cycle (50°C or higher) to kill the lice and avoid re-infection.

Even after successful treatment, the itching or rash may continue for a few weeks. Special tablets or creams (antihistamines), or anti- irritant lotions such as calamine, can ease the itching.

Close contacts in your household should be treated at the same time, as well as your sexual partner, even if they do not have any signs or symptoms.

Sexual contact is one of the ways you can catch scabies. There are things you can do to reduce the risk of catching scabies and other sexually transmitted infections.

How to avoid STIs

See the FPA website for a range of downloadable leaflets on contraception and sexually transmitted infections.

View FPA leaflets

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) website also features a range of downloadable leaflets on STIs.

View BASHH leaflets