Scabies are small parasitic mites that burrow under the skin and lay eggs. They are most common in the genital area, between fingers, on the tummy and around the buttocks. They can also appear on other parts of the body as well. The adults can survive away from a host for up to 72 hours.
The insect is spread by close bodily contact and sexual contact. Both men and women can become infected with scabies. It is possible to become infected by sharing towels and other household items with infected people. Scabies can be passed to other members of the household, including children, in ways such as this.
Scabies eggs take three to ten days to hatch into the young form of the mite. This form then molts into a larval stage that then matures into an adult mite. The adult will live for three to four weeks in the host, reproducing and laying more eggs during this time period.
Symptoms of scabies may not be seen for 4 to 6 weeks after initial infection the first time you come in contact with them. Re-infection, however, can take as little as 24 hours to become apparent.
The symptoms are the same for both men and women. They include itching, irritation and inflammation in the infected area. As the mites burrow under the skin, tracks where the bugs have burrowed deeper can often be seen on the skin, alongside small mosquito-like bites. The tracks are usually linear or s-shaped can found in the crevices of the body such as finger webs, around the genital area and under a woman’s breasts.
In older people and those with an immunodeficiency, such as HIV, a severe form of scabies can develop, called crusted scabies. Due to the low immune response, the body is much more susceptible to the mites and reacts in a much more dangerous way. Thick crusts of skin develop that can contain thousands of mites within them. These crusts form a barrier and protect the mites, making it very difficult to effectively treat a person and remove them. In these circumstances, prolonged treatment will be necessary.
An appointment should be made with the doctor or nurse as soon as there are signs of an infection or the mites are seen and it is believed that an infection has occurred. Anyone coming in contact with another person who is infected should be checked as soon as possible to get treatment, even if it is only preventative.
The test for scabies is usually an inspection by a Doctor or Nurse of the infected area. A skin flake may be removed and examined under a microscope to see if a mite is visible, as they are very tiny and cannot be easily seen. As the mites are not always apparent very soon after infection because the eggs take a while to hatch, a follow up appointment should be scheduled.
Women should note that cervical screening may detect scabies when the examination is performed, so it is important to have regular check-ups with your doctor.
The usual treatment for scabies is the use of a cream or lotion applied to the area. The treatment is usually applied and left over night. It is sometimes even left on the skin for up to 12 hours before it is rinsed off. A further treatment is usually advised after several days to ensure the complete removal of all adults and eggs.
As the itching symptom of scabies is an allergic reaction to the insect’s saliva, this particular symptom may take several days to disappear, even though the mite itself has been eradicated completely from the body. Antihistamine medication and calamine lotion can help to alleviate the symptoms in some cases if this is needed.
All underwear, bedding, towels and any other linen that could harbor the mites should be washed at a high temperature to ensure that the infection doesn’t reoccur from any eggs or insects that have gotten onto these. It is also recommended that everyone present in the house hold undergoes treatment at the same time to ensure the complete eradication of the mite completely, as it spreads very easily.
Treatment for scabies can be purchased over the counter, although it is always a very good idea to consult the pharmacist before you purchase any product in a pharmacy. Pregnant or breast feeding women should always consult the pharmacist or their doctor before using any medication as some treatments are not suitable when pregnant or breast feeding. It is advisable that both partners are treated at the same time, even if living in separate houses. Otherwise, cross infection can continue between the two.
Under certain circumstances, follow up treatment may be necessary or advisable. For example, you should seek a follow up treatment if you have unprotected sex before finishing the complete course of treatment or with a partner that has the infection, if the full course of treatment was not followed correctly, or symptoms still persist. Also, if the course of treatment was completed correctly but symptoms of scabies are still apparent after the treatment is finished, then a follow up is recommended to seek other treatment to remove them.
Scabies never goes away without treatment, and it will spread if left untreated and become worse. The longer it is delayed the more chance there is of infecting someone else with it as well because they multiply.
Sex of any kind should be avoided by both partners for the entire duration of treatment and even longer if symptoms are still present. This will help to prevent re-infection of yourself and the other person. There is no evidence to suggest that any woman or man will become infertile as a result of having scabies.
Anyone diagnosed with this infection should tell their current partner and any recent sexual partners so that they can be checked for scabies, even if they show no symptoms. In some circumstances, a clinic will offer to contact partners or ex-partners so that the patient does not have to do this.