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What is Scabies?

Scabies is an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite. The microscopic scabies mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin where it lives and eventually lays its eggs. The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching and skin rash. The scabies mite usually is spread by direct, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies. Scabies is found worldwide and affects people of all races and social classes. Scabies can spread rapidly under crowded conditions where close body and skin contact is frequent. Institutions such as nursing homes, extended-care facilities, and prisons are often sites of scabies outbreaks. Child care facilities also are a common site of scabies infestations.

Is scabies contagious?

According to research and experience, scabies is contagious. However, it usually requires long skin-to-skin contact with an infected person such as carrying a person, sleeping with the person. Infrequently, it may be contagious through contact with clothing or bedding, but this form of transfer of scabies is thought to be very uncommon and rare. In general, most people who become infested with scabies usually have about 10-15 itch mites on their body. One exception to this rule is a scabies infestation that is seen less frequently called crusted or Norwegian scabies. This is a case in which large areas of skin are infected with huge numbers of itch mites. Naturally, a person with this type of scabies is highly contagious. Although pets can become infested with similar itch mites, they are not usually spread from humans to animals or vice versa.


After first exposure to scabies, it can take up to six or seven weeks for symptoms to appear. The symptoms usually develop more quickly in people who’ve had scabies before. Most common symptoms of scabies include a rash and itching that gets worse especially at night. Continuous scratching of the infected area can create sores that become infected. In case this occurs, additional treatment with antibiotics for the skin infection may be recommended. Common sites for scabies in older children and adults include the:

  • wrist
  • elbow
  • armpit
  • penis
  • waist
  • area between the fingers

How Does Scabies Spread?

Scabies typically spreads through prolonged, skin-to-skin contact that gives the mites time to crawl from one person to another. Shared personal items, such as bedding or towels, may sometimes be to blame. Scabies can be passed easily between family members or sexual partners. It is not quite likely to spread through a quick handshake or hug. The scabies mite can’t jump or fly, and it crawls very slowly.

What is the contagious period for scabies?

As long as an individual has about 10 to 15 itch mites on their body and has skin-to-skin contact with an uninfected person, that person is contagious for scabies and can pass the organisms to others. Moreover, a person who has recently acquired scabies and shows no symptoms is also contagious for scabies.


Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose scabies simply by performing a physical exam and inspecting the affected area of skin. In some cases, your doctor may want to confirm the diagnosis by removing a mite from the skin with a needle. If a mite can’t easily be found, your healthcare professional will scrape off a small section of skin to obtain a tissue sample. This sample will then be examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of scabies.

If itching continues more than 2-4 weeks after initial treatment or if new burrows or rash continue to appear, retreatment with scabicide may be necessary. In any case, you should seek the advice of a physician in order to get a professional opinion and much needed help!