How to Detect Scabies

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Scabies, also known as the human itch mite or mange mite, is a highly contagious parasitic skin infection caused by the microscopic sarcoptes scabiei mite. The mites burrow into human skin and then lay eggs; when the eggs hatch, the new mites work themselves back to the skin surface, where they can then be spread to others. Scabies is transmitted by direct skin on skin contact, but it is also possible for the infection to be transmitted via clothing, towels and bedding. In the four-to-six-week period before symptoms develop, the exposed person is highly contagious. There are specific symptoms that indicate a possible scabies infection; for diagnosis and treatment, you must see a physician.

Take note of the time of day when itching occurs. The itching from scabies tends to get much worse at night.

Examine your skin--especially between fingers, in armpits, on inside of wrists, on buttocks, and on knees-- for the presence of tiny, red bumps. Check for rows of bumps or blisters that run in irregular red furrows, are S-shaped, and lie along folds of skin. Although the mites can't be seen with the naked eye, you can see the tunnels made by female mites as they burrow into skin; the bumps themselves are the skin's allergic reaction to the mites' bodies, eggs, and waste.

Review events of the past six weeks for any contact you might have had with someone who could be infected; normally, it takes four to six weeks for scabies symptoms to appear after exposure. Try to recall if you used any borrowed clothing, towels, or bedding--behavior that could make scabies infection more likely. Keep in mind that the condition can strike anyone, regardless of personal hygiene.

Make an appointment with your physician for diagnosis and treatment. There are many conditions that can resemble scabies, including eczema, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis; only your doctor can identify it for sure. Doctors diagnose scabies by looking at a skin scraping under a microscope. Treatment usually involves prescription lotions.

Follow your doctor's instructions concerning medications or lotions, and tell him of any household members you feel may have been exposed. He might want to treat them too, whether they show symptoms or not.

To prevent re-infection, wash all exposed clothing and bedding with detergent in the hot water cycle. Dry at high heat.

Tips & Warnings

  • Scratch with the pads of your fingertips and not your nails, if you must scratch at all. According to staff physicians at the Mayo Clinic, victims' attempts to relieve the intense itching sometimes break the skin, leaving them vulnerable to secondary infections such as impetigo, staph and strep infections.
  • Use calamine lotion to relieve the itching until you can get to your doctor.

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