Mange is a generic term describing the condition caused by mites on or near the skin surface in dogs, cats, cattle, hogs, sheep and humans. Each different species has its own particular sarcoptic mite that attempts to set up life in its skin. Dogs don't catch human mange. Cats don't catch dog mange. And humans don't catch mange from their pets or other animals. In humans, sarcoptic mange is also known as scabies and has been referred to as the "Seven Year Itch."
While humans don't get mange from the mites that create the condition on dogs and cats, occasionally, a mite from an infected family pet will find its way onto a person. While the dog and cat varieties of mites don't set up burrows and lay eggs under human skin, the way they do on their feline and canine hosts, their presence on humans can cause red welts similar to those created by a mosquito bite. It is not necessary to provide treatment to kill the mites because they cannot survive on a human host. However, cortisone is sometimes prescribed to reduce inflammation and help control itching.
In mammals, the microscopic mite burrows into the upper layer of skin where it lives and lays its eggs creating a condition referred to as mange. In humans, the condition is most commonly known as scabies. It is common for outbreaks of scabies to occur in places where there are many people in close contact, such as nursing homes, prisons and child care facilities. Close body contact is required for scabies to infect one human from another human, the only way in which it can be transmitted. Because of this, it is often sexually acquired.
Scabies create an intense itching and a pimple-like rash. In a person who has never had scabies before, symptoms may not be present for up to two months after the time of infection. However, during all of that time, the infected person can be infecting others without knowing she has the mites on her skin. If a person who has had scabies before is re-infected, symptoms may appear one to four days after the new infection. Itching tends to be most severe at night and the pimple-like rash occurs between the fingers, on the wrists and elbows, and on the armpits, penis, nipples, waist, buttocks and shoulder blades. In young children and infants, the rash is often present on the head, face, neck, palms and soles of the feet.
A more severe infection of human mange is known as "crusted scabies." Those who are elderly, disabled or debilitated in some other way are at risk of having a scabies infection turn into this more contagious variety. With crusted scabies, thick crusts appear and these crusts contain large numbers of mites and mite eggs. A person infected with crusted scabies is extremely contagious. With this level of scabies, bodily contact is no longer necessary for the mites to pass from one human to another. The mites can be transmitted through the infected person's clothing, bedding and furniture. A person with crusted scabies should seek medical attention immediately.
Scabies is usually diagnosed in people by the appearance of the rash. It should, if possible, be confirmed by a positive identification of the mite or the mite eggs. This can be done by removing the mite from the end of its burrow using the tip of a needle or by taking a skin scraping. These can then be examined under a microscope. Even if no mites are found, you can still be infected. As few as 10 to 15 scabies mites can create symptoms of sarcoptic mange.
When diagnosed with scabies, not only should the infected person be treated, but so should everyone who lives in that person's home, his sexual partners and other close contacts. Everyone should be treated at one time to prevent re-infection. Scabicides, which kill the mites and mite eggs, can only be purchased with a doctor's prescription. There are no effective over-the-counter products for scabies. The body should be covered in scabicide lotion from the neck down to the soles of the feet and toes. In children and infants, the scabicide should also be applied to the head and neck. The treatment should be applied to clean skin and left on for the product's recommended amount of time. Clean clothing should be worn following treatment. Itching can continue for two to four weeks after treatment.
Treatment doesn't end with getting the mites off of your body. Your environment must be treated in order to prevent re-infection. Bedding, clothing and towels used by the infected person, members of the infected person's household, and the infected person's sexual partners and other close contacts should be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer, dry cleaned or sealed and put in a plastic bag for at least 72 hours.