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More than 200,000 US cases per year
- Requires medical diagnosis
- Symptoms: Rough-feeling patch, constantly dry lips, itching or burning, rough and painful patches
- Color: Typically red-brown
- Location: Anywhere on the skin most exposed to the sun
- Treatment: Lubrication, laser surgery, chemical peels, phototherapy
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Scabies is a highly contagious skin disease caused by a mite infestation. The condition is not related to personal hygiene, so anyone can get scabies.
The human itch mite is a eight-legged spider like bug that is usually too small to be visible to the human eye. The mite goes under the top layer of skin, where it will live, feed and lay eggs. Scabies is a rash that develops as a reaction to the mite’s proteins and feces.
Scabies causes a severe itch, and is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. The rash can also be transmitted through sexual contact. Thus, many consider scabies as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In some cases, people pick up mites from from infested items such as bedding, clothes, and furniture. The mite can survive for about 48 to 72 hours without human contact.
Scabies from other kinds of animals, such as dogs, can cause a temporary reaction in human skin. This clears up fairly quickly, as other species scabies on animals cannot reproduce in the human skin.
Symptoms of Scabies
Scabies produces a painful and intense itching, especially in the nighttime. Upon careful examination, you can sometimes see the narrow aisles of reddened skin on the hands, soles of the feet or between fingers and toes. Around the rash, there are almost always scratch marks. You may see small bumps or blisters in connection with scabies aisles. These bumps often look like pimples.
If you see small raised and crooked grayish-white or skin-colored lines on the skin surface, this is caused by female scabies mite tunneling just beneath the surface of the skin. In children, the inflamed burrows are often found around the navel, torso and in the groins.
Crusted (Norwegian) scabies affects the elderly, people who are immunocompromised, or persons who have conditions that prevent them from itching and/or scratching (spinal cord injury, paralysis, loss of sensation, mental debility). It is a severe form of scabies that causes fluids and thick crusts over the skin. There may be no itching in the case of crusted scabies, but it is highly contagious because they are infested with up to 2 million of mites, as opposed to 15 to 20 mites in the usual case.
What can I do?
If you have scabies, you and people who have prolonged direct skin-to-skin contact with should seek treatment.
Bedding, clothing, and towels used by the infested during the three days before treatment should be washed in hot water and dried in a hot dryer, dry-cleaned, or by sealing in a plastic bag for at least 72 hours.
Do not use insecticide sprays or fumigants.
Should I seek medical care?
No over-the-counter products can treat scabies. You should contact a healthcare provider if you suspect that you have scabies.
Treatment for Scabies
Scabies is still not a very common problem, so the rash is sometimes interpreted as eczema or some other skin infection. However, there are effective medications to treat scabies once there is a correct diagnosis.
Scabicides can kill the scabie mites and their eggs. They are only available with a doctor’s prescription. Itching still may continue for several weeks after treatment even if all the mites and eggs are killed. If the itching lasts for more than 2 to 4 weeks after treatment, you should seek medical care again. The same applies to new burrows or continuous appearance of pimple-like rashes.
American Academy of Dermatology. Scabies. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/scabies
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Parasites – Scabies. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/
MedicineNet, Inc. Scabies. Available at: http://www.medicinenet.com/scabies/
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