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What is scabies?

Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by tiny mites called Sarcoptes Scabiei.

About Sarcoptes Scabies:

  • They are eight legged creatures with a round body.
  • These mites measure 0.4 mm in length each.
  • The female mite burrows under the skin, lays eggs and dies.
  • The eggs hatch into mites which live for 30 days.

Scabies is not a sign of poor hygiene. However, it tends to occur in crowded residential places like hostels and nursing homes.

What are the signs and symptoms of scabies?

Scabies is usually associated with:

  • Intense skin itchiness; which is worse at nights and after hot baths.
  • Scratch marks.
  • Red pimple – like rashes especially over palms and soles.
  • Short, dark wavy lines on the skin (which are sites of the burrows).

Note : The itchiness is due to allergic reaction to the mite.

Sites of infection

The common sites are:

  • Web space between fingers.

  • Palms.
  • Inner aspect of wrists.

Other Areas include:

  • Genital areas.
  • Buttocks.
  • Around the navel.
  • Arm pits.
  • Elbows.
  • Feet and ankles.

How does it spread?

Scabies can easily spread from one person to another through

  • Close body contact.
  • Contact with infested clothes or bedding (occasionally).

What are the complications of scabies?

Bacterial infection can occur at the site of intense scratching resulting in a condition called impetigo. In those with weakened immune system, a severe form of scabies called crusted scabies can occur.

What is the treatment for scabies?

Medications to kill the mites are called scabicides. They are in the form of creams or lotions to apply on the skin. These include:

  • Permethrin cream.
  • Gamma benzene hexachloride cream.
  • Benzyl benzoate lotion.
  • Malathion lotion.
  • Crotamiton lotion or cream.

Where to apply the cream or lotion?

  • From below the chin to the tip of the toes.
  • All areas of the skin have to be covered including the web space areas, below the nails and the genitals.

How to apply cream or lotion?

  • Medication is applied and then left overnight before washing off the next morning.
  • Treatment is to be taken for 1 – 3 consecutive nights according to the instruction of the doctors.

Clothing & Bedding need to be washed in hot water.

All family members need to be treated at the same time regardless of whether they have the itchiness or not.

Itchiness may continue for weeks after successful treatment. Medication to relieve itchiness may need to be continued for a few weeks.

Prevention of spread to others

  • Keep the affected child away from school / childcare centre till completion of treatment.
  • Treat the whole family simultaneously.
Last reviewed : 27 April 2012
 Writer : Dr. R. Sukumar a/l Rajaretnam
Reviewer : Dr. Sabeera Begum bt. Kader Ibrahim