What is Scabies?
Scabies is an infestation that is caused by the itch mite called Sarcoptes scabei. It is a variation of a subtype hominis. If these mites are not treated in a timely manner, then they can live on the skin for months. These mites reproduce on the surface of the skin and later burrow into the skin to lay eggs. Due to this, one can feel itchiness, forming a red rash on the skin. There have been more than 300 cases of scabies around the globe.
Scabies is known to be a highly contagious medical condition that can spread like an epidemic since it can be easily passed from one person to another person through skin contact. Along with skin contact, scabies can also be transmitted through clothing and bedding that have been infested. Scabies can be really troublesome, but there are treatments available to get the infestation cured.
The treatment, which would include both conventional medications as well as homemade remedies, would help to kill the scabies mites, as well as their eggs, so this medical condition does not occur again in future. Scabies is a very contagious illness; hence, in certain cases, the doctor would often recommend for the treatment of the entire group of people, rather than just the infected individual.
The common symptom that can be identified for scabies is constant itching, which leads to a pimple-like rash. There is no pain caused by scabies; however, the itching becomes relentless and can tend to worsen over a period of time, especially in the nighttime. In the initial weeks, one may notice only subtle signs of itching; however, gradually, the itching becomes too intense, and after a month or two, the itching becomes unbearable wherein it leads to disruption in sleep.
Is Scabies Contagious?
Yes, scabies is a contagious illness. However, it requires a significant period of skin-to-skin contact with the infested individual. A few examples would be having sexual partners, carrying the person, sleeping with the person, etc. In certain cases, the infestation can happen with contact of the infected person’s bedding or clothing. However, this kind of transfer of the scabies mites is known to be quite rare. It is said that those people who have been infested with scabies mostly have about 10 to 15 mites on the various parts of the body.
An exception of this rule is a kind of scabies infestation that is less frequent and is known as crusted or Norwegian scabies. In this kind of infestation, there are large portions of the skin that become infected with hundreds and thousands of mites. In such conditions, whoever has this kind of scabies is known to be highly contagious. In a few cases, pets are also known to become infested with similar kinds of mites; however, this does not spread from humans to animals or vice versa.
If an individual has at least ten to fifteen scabies mites on the body, and there is regular skin-to-skin contact with the infested person, then the person is known to be contagious with scabies and has the capability of passing this illness to the other individual, as well. Also, a person who has recently acquired this medical condition, but it is in the incubation period, is more likely contagious, and passing this disease to another individual is likely. Scabies can spread quickly if the infested person is in a crowded place where there is a high frequency of close bodily and skin contact. Apart from crowded places, nursing homes, child care centers, hospitals, clinics, and prisons are other common places where this infestation can spread easily.
One should note that pet animals do not spread human scabies. If they have similar signs, then it could be a different kind of scabies mite. Such types of mites do not survive or reproduce eggs on humans, but it can cause “mange” in animals. Those animals who have mange and have close contact with any human can cause a temporary form of itching and irritation on the skin. However, one should note that mites that have been living on the animal cannot reproduce on human skin, and hence they die within a couple of days. In such cases, treating the animal becomes very important, because if it is not treated, then they can continue to come in contact with the person’s skin and burrow in the layers of the skin, causing irritation and itching. Hence, the animal needs to be treated successfully.
Crusted or Norwegian Scabies
There is a highly contagious form of scabies that can occur in those individuals, particularly small children or the elderly, who have an impaired immune system. It is known as crusted or Norwegian scabies. Individuals who have crusted scabies have a thick crust that forms on the skin. This crust contains a high number of mites, along with their eggs. It is said that those individuals who have crusted scabies are highly contagious and can easily spread the infestation both by direct skin-to-skin contact and by the use of bedding, clothing, furniture, or any other items that have been contaminated by the infested individual. Those having crusted scabies usually do not show any signs or symptoms of the disease, such as constant itching or redness and swelling on the skin. Once an individual is identified with crusted scabies, then they should not delay going to the doctor and starting an aggressive form of treatment so as to avoid any outbreak of this disease.
Identification and Incubation Period
Individuals who have a very itchy rash can quickly identify the presence of scabies. The itchy rash has small tendrils that spread out of the area of the itchy rash. These are called burrows, which are made by the mites in the skin layers so as to lay eggs. A person can quickly identify this sign if they have seen similar rashes in another person with whom he has recently come in contact. The doctor also can get this diagnosed by conducting a skin scraping with common laboratory stains. This would help to identify the presence of the mite and the eggs or the mite’s fecal remains in the layers of the skin. This can be done with the help of a microscope by watching the skin scrapings. In smaller children, there can be a formation of pinkish-brown nodules on the skin surface. Usually the incubation period for scabies is eight to ten weeks, during which the person who is infested is highly contagious if he comes in contact with another person.
Scabies often produce a rash on the skin that comprises of small red bumps or blisters, which tend to impact the other parts of the body, as well. This medical condition can also involve the webs in between the fingers, the back of the elbows, the wrists, the knees, and around the waist area, the area around the nipples, the umbilicus, the back and side areas of the feet, the buttocks, and the genital areas. These bumps, which are also medically called papules, can contain crusts filled with blood.
One should understand the difference between bumps caused by scabies and the other types of bumps, since not all bumps are related to this infection. Even if there are around hundreds to thousands of bumps on the person’s skin, there can only be about ten to fifteen mites living on the surface of the skin. The rash caused by scabies is often apparently noticeable on the face, head, palms, neck, and the soles of the feet when it comes to infants or small children; however, it is not the same case with adults or older children.
The burrows created by the mites are tiny thread-like projections that range from 2mm to 15mm in length. They appear to be brown, gray, and red colored lines in the areas that have been affected. It is often difficult to notice these burrows. By scratching constantly, one can actually destroy these burrows, and it can lead to opening of the skin, leading to the formation of scabs. One often mistakes burrows that are linear for stretch marks that appear to be large and especially appear in those individuals who have skin conditions that tend to be itchy.
Transmission of Scabies
An infected person should understand that scabies is transmitted to another person through prolonged and direct skin-to-skin contact with another person. Hence, one should avoid contact such as a handshake or a hug. Scabies in adults is mostly acquired through sexual contact with the infested person. In certain cases, there can be an occurrence of scabies through indirect contact by touching the bedding and clothing that have been contaminated.
As mentioned previously, crusted or Norwegian scabies is known to be highly contagious, since the infestation happens on large parts of the body, and there are more than hundreds and thousands of mites. It can easily spread through both direct and indirect contact due to the high concentrations of the mites on the person and his bedding, clothing, or towels. Apart from these items, scabies is not likely to spread through water; for example, if the person has been swimming in a common pool used by other individuals, it is unlikely that the mites would spread. However, if the individual has crusted scabies, then it can spread, since there are huge numbers of scabies on the person.
Reaching Out to the Doctor
Those individuals who have scabies or know someone infested with this medical condition should immediately contact the doctor for treatment. The doctor would diagnose the condition, conduct a physical examination, and also check if just the individual or the other members in contact with the person would also need the treatment and then plan the course of treatment. Those individuals with crusted scabies would be advised to stay in isolation or have some kind of barrier, such as gloves or gowns, so as to avoid the spread of the mites to others. In such extreme cases, those individuals are often hospitalized and tested for any other underlying health problems that caused their immune system to become weak.
Removal of Scabies Mites
If kept away from human skin, then scabies mites cannot survive for more than two to three days. Hence, it is very important to decontaminate the clothing, bedding, and towels, as well as any other items used by the infested person, with the help of hot water. You can use a washing machine to get these clothes washed, and also dry them by using the hot cycle or have it dry cleaned.
Those items that cannot be washed can be decontaminated by cleaning them with a cloth and hot water and keeping those items away from human contact for at least 72 hours. When it comes to individuals with crusted scabies, it is very important to carefully vacuum all the areas of the room, including its carpets or furniture, that the person has been using. It is preferable that the person stays indoors in one room until the course of treatment is completed to avoid any spread of this disease.
Scabies are known to infest humans who come in close contact with these mites, which would also include those individuals who are in good health. The only risk factor would include direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Even by practicing certain good habits and well maintained hygiene, at times, this cannot prevent the transmission of this disease if the individuals get in close touch with someone who has scabies.
It is not sufficient for the transmission to happen in school or social settings. Prolonged contact is the biggest risk factor, including having sexual intercourse, having long duration skin contact otherwise, or constant hugging of the person. This medical condition is known to happen in clusters; hence, the outbreaks would occur in a given community.