Scabies Causes Symptoms, Treatment Methods & Prevention Remedies
According to research, nearly 300 million people contract scabies, which makes it a common infection around the world. There is the report of a scabies outbreak in 10 schools in the United States.
The statistics above, and many others, point to the growing concern over the menace of scabies. Even worse is the fact that scabies can affect anyone, regardless of age or race.
Like other common skin conditions, scabies can be treated using simple methods, including the use of natural herbs and conventional medicine.
This article will focus on the causes, symptoms, and methods of treating scabies – both conventional and home treatment, as well as some prevention tips.
What is scabies?
Scabies is a communicable skin disease that is marked by a continuous itching and irritation of the skin.
As a communicable disease, scabies is highly contagious as it can be transferred via contact of an infected person or item.
Causes of scabies
Scabies is caused by the bite of a mite – the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis). This species of mites are very tiny that only a microscope can be used to see them. Scabies mites have four pairs of legs and a length of under 0.5 mm. As a communicable or contagious disease, scabies can be transmitted from one person to another.
Scabies starts when the itchy mite lays its eggs bites a person, and in the process lays its eggs in the skin. The eggs hatch and develop into adult mites. An infected person transfers the disease by contact with an uninfected person.
The symptoms of scabies begin when the mite burrows into the skin, causing a kind of allergy. If the affected person has been previously exposed to the infection, the symptoms usually begin to manifest within a few days. On the other hand, a person who has never been exposed to scabies may take up to six weeks before the symptoms start to show up.
It is also possible for animals to be vectors of the scabies mite; however, mites from animals are infertile and die off within some days.
The life cycle of the scabies mite
The itching mite that causes scabies begins its life cycle after a female adult mite lays her eggs in the human skin. From there, the eggs grow into larvae between 3 and 10 days. Then, the larvae morph into nymphs, which, in turn grow into adults, and the cycle continues. The lifespan of an adult female mite is roughly 4 weeks, after which it dies.
An adult mite can survive outside a human host for a maximum of 3 days. After three days, the mite dies.
Risk factors for scabies
Though anybody can be infected with scabies, the risk of contracting the infection is higher for people living in congested areas, especially hospitals. This is due to the fact that congested areas make it easy for person-to-person transmission via contact, which is the major mode of scabies transmission.
Also, persons with compromised immune systems are also at a higher risk of getting scabies. Examples of persons with compromised immune systems are HIV/AIDS patients. People living with health problems such as HIV/AIDS have a great chance of getting infected with scabies. In such cases, the scabies is known as “Norwegian scabies” or “crusted scabies”, which comes with extra symptoms like thick skin and scaly rashes.
Age is another risk factor for scabies, albeit not as consequential as others. What this means is that older people are at a higher risk of getting the scabies infection than younger people. Nevertheless, it is also common for children and teenagers to be infected with the disease.
Other risk factors for scabies include sexual intercourse with an infected person, presence of an STD (sexually transmitted disease), and contact with items used by an infected person.
Forms of scabies
Although there is only one cause of scabies and categorically, only one type of scabies, the scabies rash may take different forms. Below are some of the forms of scabies:
- Typical scabies: These are the common types of scabies. Typical scabies affects anywhere from the hands to the feet, but not the face and scalp.
- Infantile scabies: As the name suggests, infantile scabies are a type of scabies that affect infants or children. This form of scabies is usually marked by rashes on the face, hand, scalp, and feet.
- Nodular scabies: Nodular scabies are a type of scabies that occur as itchy bulges on the skin, especially around the genitalia and armpits.
- Complicated scabies: Complicated scabies are a type of scabies that appear with other skin conditions. This type of scabies may appear on any part of the skin.
- Norwegian scabies: We’ve already mentioned this form of scabies, which is also known as crusted scabies. The name is due to the origin of the disease – Norway, where it was first discovered. Norwegian scabies is the most severe form of scabies.
Signs and symptoms of scabies
Symptoms of scabies vary from short to deep holes between fingers, skin blisters, redness and rashes.
Common signs and symptoms of scabies include the following:
- Persistent itching of the skin
- Skin irritation
- Redness of the skin
- Pencil-like trace of the mite’s burrowing movement
- Sores due to scratching
- Scaly and thickened skin
Major areas of mite infestation in the human body
Since the human itch mites are very tiny, even to the naked eyes, they can live in little areas of the body. Below are some of the major sites of mite infestation in adults:
- The soles of the feet
- The armpits
- Shoulder blades
- Areas around the nipples
- Around the male genitalia
- The elbow
- Between the fingers
- Underneath the fingernails
- The buttocks
For kids and toddlers, the mites may affect them in the following areas:
- Soles of the feet
- Palms of the hands
When should you visit a doctor?
You need to visit your doctor if you observe any of the symptoms of scabies previously mentioned. This is because some of the symptoms of scabies are identical to those of other diseases like dermatitis and syphilis. Thus, a visit to the hospital is the only way of correctly diagnosing the problem.
Diagnosis of scabies
Diagnosis of scabies begins with the healthcare professional (usually a primary care doctor) checking for symptoms of the infection, especially the persistent itching.
Afterward, the doctor uses a microscope to examine scrapings of the person’s skin in order to check for laid eggs in the skin. First, a drop of mineral oil is applied on the skin; then, a scalpel blade is used to scrape the oiled area to collect the skin scrapings. However, microscopic examination of the skin may not be sufficient to correctly diagnose scabies.
When the microscopic examination proves unsatisfactory, a felt-tip-marker test can be conducted on the patient. This type of test involves using the marker to draw on the skin, and subsequently cleaning the mark with alcohol. By penetrating into the skin, the marker can help to locate any burrow on the skin.
Treatment options for scabies
Generally, scabies is treated using creams and lotions that are applied on the skin. Some of the common cream medications for scabies include Permethrin cream and lindane lotion. Oral medicines like Ivermectin are also effective in treating scabies.
Permethrin: A simple way of treating scabies is through the application of Permethrin – an insectide cream – on the skin. The infected person rubs the insecticide over his/her body, from the neck to the feet, including the underside of the fingernails.
Lindane lotion: Lindane lotion is to be applied topically on the skin with scabies. This is a chemical remedy that is recommended solely for people who are unable to benefit from other forms of treatment. That said, lindane lotion is not to be used on children below 10 years of age and those below 110 pounds, as well as in pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Ivermectin: Another remedy for scabies is Ivermectin, which can be ingested orally. This oral medication is normally given to people with a poor response to cream and lotions. Ivermectin is usually recommended for persons whose immune system has been compromised, people with Norwegian scabies. A word of caution though, this medication should not be given to pregnant and breastfeeding women or children under 33 pounds of weight.
Allergy medications: Since scabies usually causes a type of allergic reaction, which due to the feces and saliva of the mites on the skin, allergy medications such as antihistamines can also be used as remedy.
Other conventional medications for scabies treatment include Praxomine lotion (an anti-itching lotion), steroid creams, and antibiotics to kill the mites.
Home remedies: There are many home treatment methods for scabies. This home remedies range from the use of natural herbs like neem and aloe vera to topical application of essential oils like tea tree oil.
NOTE: It is important to state, however, that, while the above remedies are effective in killing the scabies mites, the symptoms of the disease, especially the itching may take a while before they completely stop.
Prevention Remedies For scabies
A better way of dealing with scabies is by preventing it from happening in the first place. Simple practices like cutting the fingernails to get rid of mites and/or eggs can be quite helpful.
You can also prevent the occurrence of scabies by regularly shampooing your hair. Other methods of prevention involve regular washing of laundry and regular home cleaning using a vacuum cleaner.
Another effective way of preventing scabies is by starving the mites. This can be done by placing all your clothes to be washed in a sealed container, like a plastic bag, and leaving them for some days, maybe weeks. When the mites have nothing to feed on, they will eventually die.
We now understand how scabies starts (from a teeny-weeny arachnid) and how it can be prevented and treated. We saw how scabies can be treated through various methods, including the use of creams and antihistamines. We also learnt the process of scabies diagnosis and when a person needs to visit a doctor.
With all that said, you need to make sure that you pay attention to the prevention tips for scabies, because prevention is the best form of treatment.