Scabies are tiny mites living on the skin and feeding off dead skin cells.

What is it?

Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by a tiny, eight-legged burrowing mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. The presence of the mite leads to intense itching in the area of its burrows. The sheer discomfort of scabies can produce an almost irresistible urge to scratch, especially while you're in bed at night.

Scabies is contagious and can spread quickly through close physical contact in a family, child-care group, school class or nursing home. Because of the contagious nature of scabies, doctors often recommend treatment for entire families or contact groups to eliminate the mite.

Medications applied to your skin kill the mites, although you may still experience some itching for several weeks.

What causes it?

The mite that causes scabies in humans is microscopic and almost impossible to see without a magnifying glass. The female mite burrows just beneath your skin and produces a tunnel in which it deposits eggs. The eggs mature in 21 days, and the new mites work their way to the surface of your skin, where they mature and can spread to other areas of your skin or to the skin of other people. The itching of scabies results from your body's allergic reaction to the mites, their eggs and their waste.

Close physical contact and, less often, sharing clothing or bedding with an infected person can spread the mites.

Dogs, cats and humans all are affected by their own distinct species of mite. Each species of mite prefers one specific type of host and doesn't live long away from that preferred host. So humans may have a temporary skin reaction from contact with the animal scabies mite. But people are unlikely to develop full-blown scabies from this source, as they might from contact with the human scabies mite.

What are the symptoms?

  • Itching, often severe and usually worse at night.
  • Thin, irregular marks made up of tiny blisters or bumps on your skin.

The pencil-like marks or tracks typically appear in folds of your skin. Though almost any part of your body may be involved, scabies is most often found:

  • Between fingers.
  • In armpits.
  • Around the waist.
  • Along the insides of wrists.
  • On the inner elbow.
  • On the soles of the feet.
  • Around breasts.
  • Around the male genital area.
  • On buttocks.
  • On knees.
  • On shoulder blades.

Are there any natural therapies?

The application of diluted tea tree oil applied to the affected area may help to kill the infection.

What else can I do?

tching may persist for some time after you apply medication to kill the mites. These steps may help you find relief from itching:

  • Cool and soak your skin. Soaking in cool water or applying a cool, wet washcloth to irritated areas of your skin may minimise itching.
  • Apply soothing lotion. Calamine lotion, available withtout a prescription, can effectively relieve the pain and itching of minor skin irritations.

Did you know?

Vigorous scratching can break your skin and allow a secondary bacterial infection such as impetigo to occur. Impetigo is a superficial infection of the skin that's caused most often by staph (staphylococci) bacteria or occasionally by strep (streptococci) bacteria.