How Do You Get Scabies?

how do you get scabies?

Jajah-sireenut / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Jane Kim, MD

Scabies is a contagious skin condition that affects about 300 million people worldwide each year. Tiny mites (known as Sarcoptes scabiei), which are about the size of the tip of a needle, cause scabies. They are difficult to see with the naked eye, but under a microscope, you can see that adult mites have round, creamy white bodies with eight legs.

The female mites burrow into human skin, laying about two to three eggs daily. These eggs hatch into adult mites within two to three weeks, which causes an infestation of the mites on your skin.

This infestation is highly contagious, making it easy for scabies to spread between people through skin-to-skin contact. If you develop the condition, symptoms may include intense itching, a pimple-like rash, blisters, and sore patches on the skin.

Is Scabies Hereditary? 

Scabies can often develop in people within the same family because the condition spreads through close physical contact and shared living environments. However, scabies is not hereditary, meaning parents do not pass the condition to their children through their genes.

Who Gets Scabies? 

You can get scabies if you make skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the condition. Typically, it takes about ten minutes of close contact, like hugging, cuddling, or sexual contact, for you to develop itch mites on your skin. While not as common, scabies may also spread by sharing personal items like clothes, towels, or linens. This is more likely to occur if someone has a severe form of scabies.

You can pass scabies to someone else even if you don’t have symptoms of the condition. Symptoms might take one to two months to show up when you get scabies for the first time. If you’ve had scabies before, symptoms usually appear sooner, within one to four days after exposure.

Can Pets Get Scabies?

Animals have different types of scabies mites that don’t reproduce on humans. If they get on your skin, they will die in a couple of days. This can cause temporary itching and irritation, but you don’t need treatment. However, it’s important to get treatment for your pets to prevent skin irritation and protect their health.

Risk Factors 

Where you live, what environmental conditions you experience, and your lifestyle habits, health conditions, and medications all play a role in your risk of developing scabies.

Age

Anyone can get scabies, but certain age groups are at a higher risk. While scabies affects people of all ages globally, infants and older adults may be more prone to scabies because they have frequent physical contact with caregivers, peers, and relatives.

Infants also have developing immune systems, while older adults may have health conditions that worsen their immunity. That said, it may become more difficult to fight off certain infections, like scabies.

Geography 

Anyone from any country can develop scabies. But, scabies tends to be more common in tropical climates, such as Africa, South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia. However, scabies is more likely to spread in these areas during the winter or rainy season.

Environmental Conditions 

Close, crowded living conditions or poor access to clean water, bathrooms, and laundry facilities increase the risk of scabies transmission. People who live or work in the following areas may have a higher risk of developing scabies:

  • Boarding schools
  • Child care facilities
  • Homeless shelters
  • Military camps
  • Nursing homes
  • Prisons or jails
  • Temporary housing centers during disasters like floods, droughts, and war

Lifestyle Habits

Touching the skin of someone with scabies, like sleeping close, cuddling, or having sex, can increase your risk of getting the condition yourself. The more time you spend having skin-to-skin contact, the higher your chance of getting scabies.

While it’s less common, you can get scabies from sharing clothes, towels, or bedding, especially when the person has crusted scabies. Washing linens in hot water is essential, as mites can’t survive temperatures over 122 degrees for more than 10 minutes.

If washing your clothes or personal items isn’t possible, keep these items away from your body for at least 72 hours to kill the mites. You might also consider vacuuming furniture and carpets to remove mites to reduce the risk of the mites spreading to other surfaces or humans.

What Is Crusted Scabies?

Crusted scabies, or Norwegian scabies, is a severe form of the infestation. This results in hard, yellowish-brown, or gray crusting on your skin that often develops on the scalp, ears, elbows, and soles. Sometimes, crusted scabies can resemble other skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema.

While people with typical scabies usually have 10-15 mites on their bodies, those with crusted scabies can have millions of mites, making it easier to spread to others and cause more severe symptoms.

Health Conditions

Crusted scabies is more common in people with weakened immune systems due to conditions like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), lupus, and diabetes. People with poor hygiene, nutritional deficiencies, or disabilities may also be more likely to develop scabies.

Medications

Certain medications like corticosteroids (to reduce swelling) or immunosuppressants (to repress an immune system response) can increase your risk of scabies or worsen an existing infestation. That’s because these medications stop your body from fighting off infections or underlying health conditions, making it easier for mites to spread.

How To Treat Scabies

If you develop scabies, it’s important to get treatment soon. Your treatment plan may involve topical creams that you can apply directly to your skin, medications, and following certain lifestyle changes until scabies goes away.

The first line of treatment for scabies is topical creams, such as:

  • Elimite (permethrin) 
  • Eurax (crotamiton)
  • Kwell (lindane)
  • Sulfur-8 (sulfur)
  • Solantra (ivermectin)
  • Sklice (moxidectin)

Your healthcare provider will recommend leaving creams on for several hours before bathing or showering. Once you shower, it’s important to wear clean clothes. Depending on your exact dosage, you may need to reapply the cream periodically.

It’s worth noting that people you see regularly, such as household members, friends, or romantic or sexual partners need to receive treatment at the same time as you. This can help reduce their risk of worsening symptoms or getting scabies in the first place.

However, if your symptoms don’t go away, you may need to take certain medications. An oral medication called Stromectol (ivermectin) is not FDA-approved for scabies. But, this pill may be easier for some people to use, so providers may prescribe it to treat outbreaks in places like homeless shelters or prisons.

A Quick Review 

Scabies is a contagious skin condition caused by tiny mites. The mites spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who already has scabies, such as through hugging, cuddling, or having sex.

Living in crowded spaces, residing in tropical climates, and having underlying health conditions that affect your immunity can increase your risk of scabies. If you develop scabies, seeing a healthcare provider for treatment is essential.

Read the original article on Health.com.

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