You’ve heard about how unpleasant scabies can be, but what exactly is it? Scabies is caused by the human itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei, a tiny eight-legged mite that burrows into the upper layer of the skin, where it feeds and stays alive. Female mites also lay eggs in that area. When this occurs, the skin usually breaks out into an itchy pimple-like rash that is caused by an allergic reaction to the mites, their eggs, and their waste.
Although this infestation is horrible to contract, it is very treatable. Scabies treatments involve topical remedies and oral medication, depending on the severity of the infestation. All medications to treat the condition are only available by prescription, so it is absolutely vital to visit your healthcare provider to treat the problem.
Once treatment has begun, the mites are eliminated and the itching and rash symptoms should also be resolved within a few weeks.
The Prevalence of Scabies and Who It Affects
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that 130 million people are affected by scabies at any moment. Although scabies exists in all parts of the world, WHO notes that the highest rates of scabies are found in hot, tropical climates, especially in overcrowded communities.
It is important to know that anyone can get scabies regardless of geographic location, socioeconomic status, race, gender, or age. However, there are people who are particularly susceptible to scabies. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, this can include children, mothers of young children, sexually active young adults, elderly people who live in nursing homes, and hospital patients. People with compromised immune systems and people who have undergone organ transplants are at higher risk of getting scabies.
Scabies outbreaks affect residents of facilities like nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, dormitories, and prisons–basically, any institutional setting where there is frequent body contact. Places like childcare centers and camps are also at risk of outbreaks.
Scabies Signs and Symptoms
Scabies is known to cause intense itching, which can become worse at night, keeping you from sleeping. It is important to watch for itching, as it is the earliest and most common sign of scabies.
Scabies can occur anywhere on the body, but the mites tend to prefer areas like the hands (especially between the fingers and around the nails), armpits, elbows, wrists, and areas of the skin that are usually covered by clothing like shoulder blades, the groin area, breasts, the belt line, and the buttocks. Areas that are usually covered by jewelry like watches, bracelets, or rings can also be affected.
For young children and infants, itching and rashes can be found on the head, face, neck, palms, soles, and feet. Scabies in young children and infants can appear redder and include large blisters.