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Scabies and your Skin

What is Scabies?

Scabies is a contagious skin infection caused by small insects known as mites. Mites burrow into skin to lay their eggs. This burrowing action causes small itchy bumps and blisters. Person with scabies may have a bumpy red rash. Occasionally, raised wavy lines where the mites have burrowed may appear, especially on the inner part of the wrist or between the fingers or toes.

Sufferers of scabies rarely know they have the condition until a number of weeks after initial infection; this means scabies infestations can spread quickly.

Scabies is commonly seen as a condition brought about by poor living conditions and lack of personal hygiene, but there is no evidence that suggests this to be true. Scabies can affect anyone and can be treated with certain specific soaps, creams and lotions.

How do you get scabies?

Scabies is contagious, and is usually transmitted by prolonged skin-to-skin contact or through sexual contact with someone else who is infected with it. The infection spreads more easily in crowded conditions and in situations where there is a lot of close contact — like within a household, bus stops, local trains, dormitories, hostels or nursing homes. So if someone in your house, child’s class or playgroup, neighbourhood has scabies, it's wise to have them treated for the infection even before he or she develops symptoms.

The scabies mite cannot jump or fly. Most cases of scabies are probably caught from prolonged hand-holding with an infected person. The hand is the most common site to be first affected.

The mites live in skin and can survive away from the host human for about 24-36 hours. You are unlikely to catch scabies from bedding and towels unless you use them immediately after being used by someone with scabies. However, due to the potential risk, it is best to treat bedding and towels by hot washing.