Scabies is a condition caused by a tiny parasitic mite. They are less than 0.5mm in size and dig into the skin where they can also lay eggs.
Scabies is common and can be passed through close contact which can be both sexual contact or other close contact e.g. like children playing together.
How do I get it?
You can catch Scabies through skin to skin contact with someone who has it: this can be through sexual contact even with a condom (because the condom doesn’t cover all areas of skin that can be affected).
The scabies mite can affect most skin areas, including the genitals and skin creases e.g. between fingers, toes and armpits.
Scabies mites can survive for up to 72 hours away from the human body and it is possible to catch scabies from clothing, towels and bedding.
What might I notice if I have it (Symptoms)?
Some people don’t get and symptoms and are not aware they have scabies.
It may take up to 6 weeks before symptoms show. These include:
- Intense itching on the skin of affected areas. This is often worse at night and if in a hot shower or bath.
- Red rash (with itch) which may look like eczema.
- Fine white-silvery lines in skin crease (commonly on the back of the hand) where the mites have tracked into the skin
- Bumps (nodules) on the genitals around 2-3mm big
How do I get tested?
There is no special test to screen for Scabies. In most cases a doctor or nurse will make the diagnosis based on a mixture eof your story and by examining your skin to look for characteristic changes. Sometimes, treatment for scabies will be offered if it is suspected but not confirmed.
What is the treatment?
Treatment involves using a special cream or lotion to the whole body below your neck. You leave it for 12 hours before washing it off.
Only one application is needed. Some people remain itchy for up to a week or more. This is due to the persistence of scabies materials which trigger itch, rather than untreated living mites. In this case, you can get help from a high street pharmacy who can offer special soothing creams or even consider an antihistamine to turn down you itch reactions.
You apply the cream or lotion usually to the whole body from the neck downwards. This ideally should be done overnight.
The treatment should be rinsed off after 12 hours.
You must also wash your clothes, towels and bedding in a washing machine on a very hot program (60°C or more) to kill the mites and avoid re-infection.
Scabies treatment can also be bought from a high street pharmacy. People can therefore self-treat. The pharmacist can give you advice and answer any questions. If you decide to self-treat yourself, it would still be advisable to have a sexual health check to be sure that you have no sexually transmitted infections.
It is important for you to tell doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you are, or think you might be, pregnant or if you're breastfeeding. This will affect the type of treatment you are given.
Close contacts in your home should be treated at the same time as you, as well as any recent sexual partners, even if they don't have any symptoms.