How to Tell if You Have Scabies

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Identify scabies
Identify scabies (Image: Photo courtesy of Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.)

Scabies is an infestation of a microscopic mite with eight legs called Sarcoptes scabiei that tunnels and lays its eggs in the skin. As the eggs mature and new mites emerge, they spread to other areas of the skin. The mite can infect others through close contact, such as sexual contact, or sharing clothes or bedding in families, schools, nursing homes or other group environments. Early diagnosis of scabies can ensure faster treatment and avoid further transmission of the condition.

Check for tracks on the skin. These narrow burrows consist of a series of very small bumps that can also appear as a rash, often in areas where your skin folds such as the armpits, the waist, inside the elbow or knees, between fingers, near the male genitals, under the breasts and on the feet or buttocks.

Notice if the areas itch. An allergic response occurs with severe itching due to the mites, the eggs and their waste products. The irritation and itching is often stronger when you try to sleep at night.

See your doctor. Other skin problems can also itch but the itching combined with the tunnel-like rash is a strong clue for scabies. Your doctor can confirm for sure. If visual verification isn't possible, he can take a sample from your skin for microscopic examination that can reveal the mites, their eggs or the scabies fecal matter.

Tips & Warnings

  • To avoid scabies, don't share clothing or bedding with anyone who has the condition. Avoid close contact until the person has been treated and the infestation is gone.
  • If you have scabies, avoid scratching the rash or burrows as much as possible. Breaking the skin could make you susceptible to a bacterial skin infection. Untreated, severe scabies can spread widely on the body, form a scaly crust and be extremely contagious and difficult to eradicate.

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