Have you ever had the urge to scratch your skin and have not been able to stop? If yes, then you might be suffering from scabies.
Scabies is a skin infection caused by the infestation of a human itch mite, Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis. These miniature human parasites burrow under the skin and make a comfortable home for themselves, living and laying eggs.
While the mites are making themselves comfortable, the person infected by the parasite is made incredibly uncomfortable due to all the persistent itching. Every itch is not scabies, of course, but if there’s a blister rash accompanying it, scabies is very likely.
Scabies: An Infection Affecting Millions
Scabies infects over a million people every year across all age groups. The infection is highly contagious and readily spreads on close physical contact.
Scabies can spread through shared bedding, furniture, and clothing infested with mites. The estimated annual number of scabies infections exceeds 300 million.
Clinical Features of a Scabies Infection
The characteristic sign of a scabies infection is thin and elevated white-to-faint-grey burrows on the skin. These burrows harbor the mites and the eggs. As the infection spreads, multiple papules appear.
Such burrows are commonly found between the fingers, on the anterior surface of the elbows and wrists, below the breasts, on the lower abdomen, and around the genitalia.
In adults, the rashes occasionally appear on the head, face, and palms. However, in the elderly, children, and people with compromised immune systems, the rashes can appear anywhere.
Itching varies from person to person, but in general, it is intensified after a hot shower. In most cases, scratching leads to secondary infections.
Typical signs of scabies infection include:
• Rash: When the mite burrows itself under the skin, it appears to form a burrow line or tracks. These are commonly visible along the natural folds of the skin. They appear as hives, knots, bites, scaly skin, or pimples. Blisters may also be present.
• Itchiness: Itchiness is the manifestation of an allergic response to the mites, their waste, or eggs.
• Thick crust: A variation of the infection, called Norwegian scabies, forms thick crusts. These crusts harbor over a thousand mites under the skin.
• Sores: Sores appear in areas where the person scratches.
Transmission of Scabies
Primarily, scabies is transmitted from skin contact with an infected person. These people could be sexual partners, healthcare providers, or children playing. It is less common for scabies to spread via contact with bedclothes, towels, or undergarments.
Unlike mites, the scabies parasite cannot jump and can survive on the skin for a maximum of 48 hours at room temperature. In addition, scabies mites cannot live without a host for more than 72 hours.
An interesting observation here is that the scabies mites seldom infect a person twice. Once treated, there are fewer chances of recurrence as compared to someone who has never been infected.
Over the course of the infection, the average number of mites present under the skin is 15 to 20.
Scabies is easily mistaken for eczema or dermatitis because of similar symptoms. The diagnosis is made only by looking at the skin or the skin scrapings under the microscope.
If you’re interested in learning more about scabies, its causes, and how to treat it, contact Dr. Howard Horlick to schedule your consultation today. We can provide treatments for all of your skin’s needs.