Scabies - frequently asked questions
Q. What is scabies?
Scabies is a common itchy skin condition caused by a tiny mite called Sarcoptes scabieithat burrows in the surface of the skin.
A scabies mite
Itching is a response to an allergic reaction to the tiny mites and a rash of red, raised spots may develop.
Q. How is scabies contracted?
The mite may be passed to someone else by close physical contact, such as holding hands. It is not spread by brief contact. It commonly starts on the hands or wrists.
Scabies is not due to uncleanliness.
Q. How does it get into hospitals?
Scabies is very common in the community and is usually brought into hospital by a patient.
Q. What are the symptoms of scabies?
An itchy rash with tiny lumps and blisters will develop on parts of the skin. The itchiness is often worse at night.
Q. How is scabies diagnosed?
Scabies is diagnosed by the history which typically is that of an intensely itchy rash, which is worse at night and is gradually spreading to involve a greater area. The mites can be present for 4-6 weeks before an itch or rash develops. During this time, scabies can be passed on to others.
Burrows can sometimes be seen near the wrists or between the fingers and the diagnosis can be confirmed by microscopic examination of skin scrapes from the burrows.
Q. How is scabies treated?
Scabies is easily treated, often in only one treatment. A special lotion is applied all over the body to dry, clean skin and washed off later.
These treatments kill the mites but their bodies are still in the skin. The allergic itch will persist until our natural defence systems break down and get rid of what is left of the mites.
This process can take about two weeks, so patients can expect the itch to continue for that time.
Everyone in the patient’s family should be treated even if they are not yet showing any signs of the condition. All clothing, bed linen and towels also have to be washed after treatment.
Q. If a hospital has a patient with scabies, what measures do staff put in place to stop other patients from catching it?
The patient is nursed in a single room and is treated with the required cream or lotion.
Staff nursing the patient wear protective gloves and aprons until the patient has been treated.
Staff who may have contracted the infection are treated to stop the infection from spreading to other patients.
Q. What should I do if I think I have Scabies?
See your own GP who will examine the rash, make a diagnosis and treat if necessary.
If you work in the Health Care sector, you should see your Occupational Health Nurse or doctor as soon as possible.