Healthy Living

Is Scabies a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?

Is Scabies a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?

Key Takeaways

  • Scabies are caused by very small mites that burrow under the skin surface and lay eggs.
  • Scabies mostly spreads through sex; hence, it is considered a sexually transmitted disease.
  • Sex should be avoided until full treatment is complete.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

These are infections that can be passed from one person to another through anal sex, oral sex, and vaginal sex. Many people might have an STD, but they may not show symptoms. STDs are common in people. They can be dangerous, but most of them can be treated.

Sometimes, through the use of unsterilized IV drug needles, from mother to the baby during childbirth or breastfeeding, and through blood transfusions, STDs may spread. STDs have been infecting people for thousands of years. Microorganisms that live on the skin surface or mucus membrane of the male genital area or female genital area are transmitted during sexual intercourse through semen, vaginal secretions, or blood.

The microorganisms, such as yeast, viruses, and bacteria, proliferate in the genital area, since it is an ideal environment, and it provides them with a warm and moist environment.

STDs include chlamydia, chancroid, genital herpes, genital warts, HIV/AIDS, human papillomavirus, pelvic inflammatory disease, syphilis, scabies, and yeast infections.

Sex without a condom can easily pass infections. Some can pass through sexual contact, but they are not examples of sexually transmitted diseases, such as meningitis. It can be transmitted via sexual contact, but the primary vector for the pathogen is not sexual contact. Usually people get infected for other reasons.

Scabies is a skin disease that spreads easily. It is caused by a small species of mite, Sarcoptes scabies. Under the skin surface, these mites lay eggs, which after hatching, new mites make new burrows. These mites can be confused with pubic lice, the reason being that both conditions cause itching in the genital area. Thus, identification of these mites becomes difficult. It spreads by physical contact. Often, scabies is a sexually transmitted disease, since it spreads through sexual contact. However, children may pass it to one another and to adults through contact, as well, since it is extremely contagious. In nursing facilities and child care centers, outbreaks of scabies are very common.

For the first infection, the incubation period is 4 to 6 weeks. Scabies spreads through contact easily. The parasites can transfer from one to another with little contact. For the infection to be transmitted, short direct contact is enough. Only touching the skin of a person infected with scabies can expose you to the infection. Other ways include:

  • Directly through skin-to-skin contact (non sexual and sexual)
  • Through sexual activity
  • Physical contact with towels, underclothing, or bedding of the person infected with scabies
  • Outside the human body, the mites can live for 72 hours; hence, it is possible for the mites to spread through clothes, bedding, and towels

Is scabies considered an STD?

It is a sexually transmitted disease, and it spreads through close skin-to-skin contact. However, prolonged hand holding with an infected person may cause scabies.

The most common site to be affected is the hand. Scabies is considered under the heading STDs, since it spreads through sexual contact. It is a disease common worldwide, particularly in areas where the population and poverty are dense, especially in the winter and in women and children. Some experts believe that poor living conditions and lack of personal hygiene cause scabies, but there is no scientific evidence of this. The mite that causes scabies cannot jump or fly, and it can survive outside human body for seventy-two hours, which increases the risk of infection. However, the most common route of transmission is prolonged physical contact, like sexual intercourse.

Many medical experts classify scabies as a sexually transmitted disease, the reason being that its chances of spreading through sex are very high, even though scabies it is a dermatological disease that can occur through other means.

Symptoms of scabies

Scabies mites are very small and barely visible. This disease is characterized by intense scratching that becomes worse at night or after a bath or a hot shower.

Usually, the symptoms appear after 3-4 weeks. However, if you get reinfected, you may start itching within a few hours.

The symptoms of scabies are:

  • Persistent itching that becomes worse at night
  • Presence of burrows of mite in a zig-zag pattern or an ‘S’ pattern
  • Lesions on the skin, such as brown nodules or red, raised lumps on the skin surface
  • Skin rashes on the skin folds, which includes genitals, knees, hands, wrists, between fingers, and waistline
  • Pimple-like irritations
  • Inflammation and raw, broken skin caused by intense scratching
  • Fine, silvery lines
  • In infants and young children, small pus-filled bumps are seen. When the scabies is severe, crust forms and it is called crusted scabies
  • Disease takes a more severe form in people with weak immune systems, such as HIV positive patients and elderly people. Rashes develop on larger surface areas of the skin that is covered by crust. Earlier it was thought that these symptoms were caused by Norwegian scabies; however, it has been found that these symptoms are a result of scabies.
  • Red spots that can be mistaken for eczema
  • The burrow marks that are characterized by small lines of at least four tiny spots. These burrow marks appear on the elbows, wrists, around the nipples in women, and genitals in men
  • Less common symptoms are the rashes that may appear on the ankles, buttocks, axillae, genitals of a woman, groin, scalp, neck, face, head, shoulders, waist, lower leg, knees, and inside of the elbow

Common sites of infection

  • Bends of elbows and knees
  • Lower portion of buttocks
  • Breast
  • Navel
  • Penis and scrotum
  • Armpits
  • Pubic and groin area
  • Waist and abdomen
  • Wrists
  • Webs and sides of fingers and toes
  • Rarely on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and neck upward

Scabies tests

Sometimes people are able to figure out that they have scabies, but often diagnosis on one's own is difficult. The doctor will examine the skin in order to see the signs of scabies. The doctor may take skin scrapings from a burrow and observe it under the microscope to look for the presence of mites.

The doctor sometimes rubs the skin with an ink swab. The burrows on the skin get filled with the ink. This helps in detecting scabies.

A magnifying lens known as dermatoscope can be used, which will help the doctor to see the presence of parasites.

Medication for scabies

Medication may be prescribed by the health care provider. Medication may include Nix, Elimirte, or Scabene. If the infestation is not very severe, then less toxic treatment may be prescribed. Follow the directions that come along with the medicine package, and read it carefully. Creams can be applied over the body. It can be a one-time cream application or repeated in one week. Even if no symptoms are shown, the sexual partner or whole family should be treated.

After a shower and towel drying, creams and lotions should be applied, because they are better absorbed by the body. To the whole body surface from the neck down, apply a thin layer of the cream or lotion. Avoid contact of the cream with mouth, nose, and eyes. Take care of the areas between your fingers, under the nails, soles of the feet, and between buttocks. Do not wash you hands after application of the cream. Leave the cream on the body for 12 to 24 hours; after this, wash it thoroughly. People mostly apply the cream in the evening and prefer to leave it overnight. If any area has been washed before 12 to 24 hours, then reapply the cream. Often in a week’s times, this treatment is repeated. This is to kill any recently hatched mites. Antibiotics may be needed if the pimples or spots get infected.

Permethrin is the most effective treatment. It should be applied not only on the affected area but on the whole body. It kills the adult mites and the eggs.

Antihistamines help control itchiness, and the anti-inflammatory present in them also helps in the treatment. Single doses of ivermectin are effective for treating scabies, but it is used only for crusted scabies and not recommended for children under six years of age.

Other treatments are lindane, crotamiton malathion, sulfur preparations, and benzyl benzoate. Use of lindane has been limited, since it is neurotoxic.

Expectation of the treatment

Some doctors may prescribe oral medications to kill the mites. Ivermectin is one such pill that is taken by mouth. After the treatment begins, itching may continue for two weeks or more, but gradually it will disappear if you follow the treatment plan. By applying calamine lotion and using cool soaks, the itching can be reduced. The doctor may also recommend oral antihistamines.

Measures

  • Wash bedding, linens, underwear, towels, and sleepwear in hot water.
  • Vacuum the carpets and throw away the vacuum bags.
  • Vacuum the upholstered furniture.
  • Bathe or shower daily.
  • Wear clean clothes.
  • Avoid exchanging clothes with others.
  • Sleep in a clean bed.

Protection of oneself and one's partner from scabies

By having sex with someone who has an infection but is showing no symptoms, it is possible to pass the sexually transmitted infection. The following measures will help protect from most of the sexual transmitted infections, such as HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, scabies, etc.

  • Have a long term relationship in which neither is infected with the disease, nor either of you have other partners
  • Limit sex partners, because if you have sex with fewer people, the chances of getting infected by someone who has genital warts or STIs are much lower
  • Go for regular checkups for STIs
  • Using protection, like dental dams or condoms, will not provide protection against scabies, but will protect against other STDs
  • Until the scabies are treated, do not have sex. Avoid skin to skin contact until the treatment is over
  • If your partner has scabies, advise him or her to seek treatment
  • When having vaginal, oral, or anal sex, use condoms every time
  • Avoid sharing of sex toys. Before using a sex toy, wash it or cover it with a new condom
  • Avoid vaginal rings, oral sex, and anal sex
  • Immediately notify your sex partner about the infection
  • Avoid sharing towels and clothes with an infected person, and avoid sleeping in the same bed.

The person with whom you have sex has the right to know if you have any STIs. Discuss this before having sex when you both are relaxed and confident. Your honesty will be appreciated by your partner. Also, if they are infected, then you too have the right to know about it.

Complications

If the scratching is intense, then it may cause secondary bacterial infections like impetigo.

If scabies is not treated, it might spread to another partner through sex.

Scabies can spread through family, too.

Home remedies

  • Tea tree oil – it contains a compound turpentine-4 - ol. The anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-parasitic, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties helps to treat scabies. It makes the skin acidic by balancing the pH. Its antimicrobial properties protect the skin from secondary infections caused by scabies.
  • Neem leaves - their antibacterial and antifungal properties help to cure scabies. Neem leaves help to reduce itching and help in clearing the mites.
  • Turmeric - its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties help to relieve the symptoms of scabies. Turmeric can be combined with neem oil, neem powder, and lemon juice.
  • Zinc - zinc does not directly treat the disease but prevents fungal outbreak. It also helps to fight secondary infections caused by intense scratching.
  • Neem oil - it is used to treat scabies along with many other skin problems. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties eliminate bacteria and fungus trapped under the skin surface. The smell of this oil prevents the mites from reproducing. This shortens the duration of the disease.
  • Cayenne paper - it burns and kills the mites. Thus, it relieves the person from scabies.
  • Clove oil - it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and is also an analgesic. It relieves itching caused by scabies; however, the undiluted form should not be used.
  • Onion - it is an analgesic and can relieve the symptoms of itching. Also, it is rich in organosulfur compounds, so it directly attacks and kills the parasites.
  • White vinegar - it reduces the pH of the skin. The skin becomes more acidic, thus making it toxic for the parasites, and eventually they are killed.