Scabies Mites (Sarcoptes scabei)

-- Called mange in animals --

Summary: Scabies is a skin condition caused by a tiny mite that burrows under the outer layers of skin. Scabies can be extremely irritating and very contagious. Fortunately, there are medicated lotions that will control the burrowing mites once a correct diagnosis is made.

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Jack DeAngelis, ext. entomologist (ret.) revised: 11/2018

Scabies is caused by a mite

Scabies is a skin ailment caused by a tiny mite (0.2-0.4 mm ~ 1/100-1/50") that burrows under the outer layers of skin causing an allergic reaction and intense itching. This allergic reaction and itching may not be confined only to areas of mite infestation but can even spread to parts of the body that the mite has not yet reached.

Animal forms of this ailment, called sarcoptic mange (see What is Animal Mange?), are caused by the same mite but there is only a small chance of transfer between, for example, a dog and a human. Do not use products intended to treat sarcoptic mange in animals to self-treat human scabies because these medications can be very toxic.

common names and misspelling: scabbies; itch mite; mange (in animals)

picture of scabies mite
Scabies mite, highly magnified.

Scabies is very contagious

Human scabies occurs worldwide without regard to class or economic status -- in other words anyone can get scabies. While scabies mites do not transmit diseases, they do cause serious skin lesions, irritation and scarring (see photo of scabies infestation). Scabies is very contagious. Mites are generally transferred by close person to person contact such as touching, shaking of hands, sexual contact and so forth.

Symptoms of scabies infestation

Suspect cases of human scabies should be confirmed by skin scrapings that are examined under magnification to look for the mites. Once confirmed by a dermatologist scabies can be treated with topically applied lotions that contain a medication/insecticide. You should not try to self-diagnosis and treat scabies. This is a serious, contagious condition that should be treated by the medical community.

Treating scabies

All stages of the scabies mite live within burrows just under the skin surface. Therefore treatment usually involves medicated lotions applied to the skin. Repellents are not effective against scabies mites. Also, since scabies mites do not live long off their host insecticidal treatment of bedding and other household articles is generally not needed. However, bedding and clothing should be laundered in hot water.

Suspected infestations should be examined by a doctor as there are a number of skin conditions that resemble scabies. Confirmed cases can be treated with one of several medicated lotions. Common scabies lotions are Kwell (active ingredient = lindane), Elimite (active ingredient = permethrin), and Eurax (active ingredient = crotamiton).


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