Scabies is itchy and contagious skin condition caused due to parasitic infestation. They are caused due to the itch mites known as Sarcoptes scabiei. These are very small eight legged parasites that can burrow into the skin so as to produce itching. The itchiness can intensify, especially during the night. The mites that infest the humans are females are 0.3 to 0.4 mm long and not easily noticeable to the naked eye. These mites can crawl, but are unable to fly or jump. They become immobile at temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius, although they can survive at such low temperatures for a relatively long period of time.
Since the mites can easily be transmitted through direct skin to skin contact, scabies is highly contagious. This is also the most common mode of transmission for the parasitic mites. Common risk factors for catching scabies include close physical contact with the infected person, shaking hands, sexual contact, sharing clothes or furniture and even hanging the clothes together with those belonging to an infected person.
Even brisk physical contacts like a mother hugging her baby are enough to spread the skin condition. Sexually active young people are most likely to get the condition through sexual contact. It is also not unlikely for people staying together to get affected by the parasites together.
The most common symptoms of scabies is itchiness which gets more intense during the night. This is often accompanied by a pimple-like rash. These rashes could develop anywhere in the body and more commonly in the wrists, armpits, elbows, between fingers and toes, around the nails and delicate areas of the skin that usually remain covered by clothing such as nipples, genitals, buttocks and belt line. Among the infants and young people, the rashes are more likely to develop over the face, forehead, head, neck, palms, and soles. If the person has a weak immune system, the rashes may form crusts.
Since scabies is very itchy, it can induce vigorous itching, thus resulting in the breaking of the skin barrier which could further lead to a secondary bacterial infection such as impetigo. Impetigo is caused due to the infestation of staphylococci and streptococci bacteria. If the condition gets more severe, it can lead to skin crusting. Crusting usually takes place in people with weak immune system or people who are staying in hospitals and nursing homes. If the crust spreads to a larger area, they can be difficult to treat.
So far, there are no over the counter products for scabies. Any medications that are to be used have to be first prescribed by a doctor. Immediate treatment options include topical creams which are directly applied to the affected area. Elimite is a commonly used cream which is applied, kept overnight and washed off the following morning or anytime within 14 hours. This is again followed by a second application which is done after 1 or 2 weeks. Other popular medications include crotamiton cream and lotion, lindane, sulfur ointment and benzyl benzoate. Lindane also poses a risk of seizures and is generally not regarded as a first line treatment.