Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by an infestation of mites called Sarcoptes scabiei. These eight-legged parasites burrow into the skin and cause intense itching and a rash. These mites are not visible to the naked eye but can be seen with a magnifying glass or microscope. Scabies live off a host only for 24 to 36 hours.
Scabies produces a rash of small red bumps and blisters. These bumps or papules may contain blood crusts. Note that not every bump is a bug. While there may be hundreds of bumps and blisters, there are no more than 10 or 15 live mites in the infested areas. Along with the red papules, afflicted people may also see "burrows" or "tunnels." These are threadlike gray, brown or red lines that appear in the affected area. These tunnels can be 2 mm to 15 mm long.
Where Rashes Appear
A scabies rash normally appears on the head, face, neck, palms and soles of the feet in infants and young children. In adults, scabies can appear in the webs between the fingers, wrists, backs of the elbows, knees, waist, areas around the nipples, the sides and back of feet, genitals and buttocks.
What Scabies Feels Like
Scabies are very itchy. The itch is relentless and typically worse at night. The itching starts subtly but gets progressively worse and after a month or two of infestation, sleep is nearly impossible.
It is important to note that symptoms may not appear for a month after being infested with scabies. However, an infested person is still contagious during this time. Scabies is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. Sexual contact is the most common form of transmission. It is very difficult to catch scabies from shaking hands or sharing bedclothes with an infested person. Kids at school typically will not catch scabies from each other as their exposure to each other is not long enough to transmit the mites. A mother hugging her child is sufficient to spread the mites.
Scabies is treated via prescription scabicide drugs. These include creams such as permethrin and lindane. Oral medication like ivermectin also is prescribed. Crotamiton lotion or cream can be used by adults to treat scabies. This drug is not recommended for children. Antihistamines such as Benadryl can be used to provide relief from itching but it will not cure the scabies. It takes a few days for the rashes to subside after treatment. Make sure you also wash linens and bedclothes in hot water.