Sexual Health – Scabies
Scabies is a contagious skin condition caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin.
The main symptom of scabies is intense itching that’s worse at night. It also causes a skin rash on areas where the mites have burrowed.
Scabies mites are called Sarcoptes scabiei. They feed using their mouths and front legs to burrow into the outer layer of skin (epidermis), where they lay eggs.
After three to four days, the baby mites (larvae) hatch and move to the surface of the skin, where they mature into adults.
Scabies like warm places, such as skin folds, between the fingers, under fingernails, or around the buttock or breast creases. They can also hide under watch straps, bracelets or rings.
How scabies is spread
Scabies is usually spread through prolonged periods of skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, or through sexual contact.
It’s also possible – but rare – for scabies to be passed on by sharing clothing, towels and bedding with someone who’s infected.
It can take up to eight weeks for the symptoms of scabies to appear after the initial infection. This is known as the incubation period.
Scabies is widespread in densely populated areas with limited access to medical care, and is most common in the following tropical and subtropical areas:
. Central and South America
. Northern and Central Australia
. Caribbean Islands
. Southeast Asia
In developed countries, scabies outbreaks can sometimes occur in places where there are lots of people, such as schools, nurseries and care homes.
In the UK, most outbreaks of scabies occur in the winter. This may be because people tend to spend more time indoors and closer to each other at this time of year.
It’s difficult to know exactly how many cases of scabies there are in the UK. This is because many people don’t visit their GP and treat the condition with non-prescription medicines.
Visit your GP if you think you have scabies. It’s not usually a serious condition, but it does need to be treated.
The two most widely used treatments for scabies are Permethrin cream and Malathion lotion (brand name Derbac M). Both medications contain insecticides that kill the scabies mite.
Permethrin 5% cream is usually recommended as the first treatment. Malathion 0.5% lotion is used if permethrin is ineffective.
*If your partner has been diagnosed with genital scabies, to avoid reinfection you should visit your nearest sexual health clinic so you can be checked and, if necessary, treated.
Avoid having sex and other forms of close bodily contact until both you and your partner have completed the full course of treatment.
Complications of scabies
Scabies can sometimes lead to a secondary skin infection if your skin becomes irritated and inflamed through excessive itching.
Crusted scabies is a rare but more severe form of scabies, where a large number of mites are in the skin. This can develop in older people and those with a lowered immunity.
People sometimes think scabies is caused by unhealthy living conditions and poor personal hygiene. However, there’s no evidence to support this.
Anyone can get scabies, but certain groups are more at risk through being in close contact with lots of other people. High-risk groups include:
. Children – outbreaks of scabies can occur in schools and nurseries
. Parents – from being in close contact with infected children
. Elderly people – who live in nursing homes
. Sexually active people
If you’re worried you may have an STI, visit your local GUM or sexual health clinic for advice.
You can find your nearest sexual health clinic by searching by postcode or town.
For information on all sexual health services, visit the FPA website below.
Scabies is a contagious skin infection which itches intensely. A GP talks about the causes, symptoms and treatment.
Source NHS Choices
*We would always recommend using a condom