Skin infections - scabies
Skin infections are common, but they shouldn’t be. They can be easily treated and prevented, and no one has to suffer.
Scabies is caused by very small bugs called scabies mites. They dig under the skin to lay eggs. This is what makes a person feel very itchy, and scratch their skin. The scratched skin lets in germs, causing an infection, and makes you sick.
The worst kind of scabies is what’s called crusted scabies. This is when there are thousands of mites on the skin. The skin will get very flaky, and the person will be very sick, and they’ll need to go to hospital to get better. If scabies isn’t treated properly, it can lead to other serious problems, like kidney disease and blood poisoning, which in some cases can cause death. Scabies is also strongly linked to rheumatic heart disease, because of scratching and skin sores. So it’s important to treat scabies as soon as possible to avoid these complications and to prevent it spreading to the other people in the community.
Scabies can infect anyone, and it spreads through close physical contact. This can include sharing a bed or sexual contact. The mites that cause scabies can survive for about a day when they’re not on a person, so it’s possible to catch them from fabric like clothing and bedding as well. You can’t get scabies from dogs or other pets.
Signs of scabies are really bad itching, which is usually worse at night or worse after a hot shower or bath. It can cause a rash that’s bumpy or looks like pimples, and very itchy bumps in the groin area. Small spots or sores that are clear and full of fluid, and it causes burrows in the skin creases like the armpits and genitals, or burrows in the skin between the fingers.
In children, it’s common to see these signs on the palms, soles of the feet, face, and scalp. In older people, the rash might be more spread around the body. But because the mites bury themselves in the skin, you might not see much of a rash.
By visiting your medical service, a health worker can find out if you or your child have scabies. They’ll look at the skin, and they might do a skin scraping looking for mites and eggs under a microscope. If you have access to telehealth service, it might be possible to send photos of the sores so that a doctor can have a look at them and see if they’re scabies, or if it could be from something else. If you or someone you know has scabies, the treatment will depend on your age, if you’re pregnant, and if you have sensitive skin. The health worker will talk to you about what treatments are best for you.
There are new programme of treatment with special medications, which is having a great impact. You also might need to use a special cream or lotion that you get from the pharmacy, following the pharmacist’s instructions so that you can use the cream properly, because if you don’t, the cream won’t work.
If the spots or pimples get infected, you might need to take antibiotics as well. Talk to a healthcare worker or doctor about this. You might still be itchy for two to three weeks after treatment. This is normal. Talk to a pharmacist about it, and they can help you with other treatments that will help with the itch. We can stop the spread of scabies. Have a shower, bath, or swim every day, and wash your skin with soap to keep it clean.
If you have scabies, everyone you have close physical contact with will also need treatment straight away, even if they don’t show any signs. If everyone doesn’t get treatment at the same time, the treatment might not work, and the mites will keep spreading in the community, making more people sick. For anyone who has scabies, all of their clothing, bedding, underwear, towels, and things like slippers, dressing gowns, and blankets used in the three days before treatment will need to be washed in hot, hot water, over 50 degrees Celsius, and then dried in the sun or tumble dried in hot. If any of these things can’t be washed and dried in this way, seal them in a plastic bag for three full days before airing them out and using them again. Doing these things will kill the mites so they can’t spread to other people. It’s also good to put mattresses and furniture with fabric like couches and armchairs in the sun. Anyone with scabies should keep away from child care, preschool, school, and at work until one day after their start of treatment.
Last Reviewed: 09/07/2020
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.