Scabies (The Itch)

Scabies is a common skin condition caused by tiny mites.  Anyone can get scabies, which is also known as “the itch.” Scabies can be unpleasant but the mite does not carry disease.

How is it spread?

Scabies is usually spread by direct and prolonged skin-to-skin contact with someone who already has it. Scabies is sometimes spread indirectly by sharing clothing, towels or a bed. A quick handshake or hug usually will not spread scabies.

What are the signs of scabies?

Signs of scabies begin four to six weeks after contact, if you have never had scabies before. If you have had scabies before, signs appear in one to four days after contact.  Scabies usually causes a pimple-like rash and severe itching, especially at night. You may see tiny, greyish white lines on the surface of the skin. These signs of scabies are often found between the fingers, on the wrists, elbows, armpits, nipples, penis, waist, belt line and buttocks.

In infants and very young children, these signs can often be found on the head, face, neck, palms, and soles of the feet.

How do I know for sure it is scabies?

Only your doctor or nurse practitioner can say for sure if you or your child has scabies. Itching and skin rashes can have many other causes.

How can scabies be prevented?

Scabies is prevented by avoiding direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies and by not sharing clothing, towels or a bed with a person who has been affected.

How is scabies treated?

  • After seeing your doctor or nurse practitioner, follow the directions provided with the recommended lotion or cream.
  • Treat all family members who have had skin-to-skin contact with the affected person.
  • If you have scabs or crusts from scratching, take a bath or shower before using the lotion; this will soften the crusts and let the lotion work.
  • Wait 15 minutes until the skin is dry and cool before applying the lotion.
  • Cover your entire body with the lotion.
  • Dress in clean clothes, and leave the lotion on for the recommended time (eight to 14 hours).
  • Then take another bath or shower, wash well, and put on a new set of clean clothes.
  • Expect the itching to continue for two to four weeks after treatment. If the itching continues for longer than this or the rash does not go away, see your doctor or nurse practitioner again; you may need additional treatment.
  • There is other medication available to help relieve the itching. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Affected people may return to work or school the day after treatment.

What do I do around my house?

Scabies mites do not live for more than two to three days off human skin. Wash bedding, clothes, and towels in hot water, and use the dryer on the hot cycle. For items that cannot be washed, bag for up to 72 hours.

Services related to this information:

811 HealthLine (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555

Public Health Nursing office

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Last updated: 2019-11-13