Scabies is a very common disease in many parts of the world. It’s the result of a mite called the Sarcoptes scabiei that lays its eggs under the skin where it reproduces.
Upon hatching, the mites crawl on the skin, causing a rash to appear on the skin in the attempt to make new homes.
The scabies rash is very itchy, which means a person with it will scratch continuously. Adults and children – male and female – can be affected by the disease. While most don’t think of it as a sexually transmitted disease, that’s, in fact, what it is. After all, the mites transfer during sexual contact.
Scabies has an incubation period of four to six weeks for the initial infection. Subsequent infections tend to result in nearly immediate symptoms. The disease is spread via sexual and non-sexual skin-to-skin contact. This means bedding of an infected person can lead to an infection of a non-infected person.
Overcrowded populations can also cause scabies to spread – think prisons, displaced people camps, mental homes, nursing homes and orphanages. Since the disease stays within a family unit, dorms or daycare centers, it’s advised not to share clothes and blankets to reduce the chances of spreading mites in case a person is infected.
Scabies is recognized by the intense itching and scratching, which is worse after a hot bath or shower or at night in bed. You could also see silvery lines under the skin (these are burrow markings). Itching can be seen between the fingers, ankles, elbows, wrists, genital area, under the breasts and shoulders. A person infected with scabies will have scratch marks, flattened/raised burrows and tiny papules. The initial rash may become infected that leads to bigger bumps, which is usually the result of an allergic reaction.
The treatment for scabies is to use anti-scabies lotion and to avoid any type of contact with a sexual partner until the treatment is over. Apply the lotion after you shower and towel dry. You just need a thin layer of lotion and cream to your entire body – from the chin on down. While you can use a pastry brush to make it easy to apply the lotion. However, you could ask someone to assist you in applying it.
Do not get it into your nose, mouth or eyes. Get in between your finger, nails, feet and butt crack. Avoid washing your hands for 12 to 24 hours after the treatment, but wash yourself off thoroughly. It’s best if the treatment is done at night to ensure you don’t wash off the lotion during the day.
If an infection is suspected, antibiotics may be given.
The key way to reduce the chances of getting scabies is to avoid any skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the disease. Do not share clothing or bedding of the infected person and do not wash clothes or bedding in the same wash. Mites can live up to 72 hours after they fall off the body, which means you must take preventive measures to stop re-infestation.
Anything that can be washed and was used by the infected person is washed in very hot water. Iron clothes and underwear with an electric iron. Dry items on high heat for up to 30 minutes. Use bleach and hot water on surfaces that could have scabies mites.
Although scabies isn’t regarded as a sexually transmitted disease, it is certainly one way to become infected with them. Therefore, avoid any sexual contact with a person infected with the disease until they are treated and no longer have signs of the bugs.
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Written by Mark Riegel, MD
Yes. Both scabies and crabs are easily treated.
Parasitic. Scabies is caused by the mite, Sarcoptes scabei. And crabs are caused by pubic lice, Phthirus pubis.
Medicated Lotions. Both conditions are treated with specific medicated lotions; Additionally in both cases, all clothing and bedding should be washed in hot water.
Upto 2 weeks. Itching may take 2-3 weeks to go away completely.
No. Sex is not recommended until treatment of you and your partner(s) is complete.
Yes. If you are exposed to a person, especially sexually, re-infestation is entirely possible.
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