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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is scabies?

Scabies is a skin condition that is caused by scabies mites. Scabies mites are tiny bugs that burrow, lay eggs, and live underneath the skin. Scabies is spread through close contact with a person who has scabies. This includes having sex, sleeping in the same bed, or sharing towels or clothing. Scabies can spread quickly and must be treated as soon as it is found.

What are the signs and symptoms of scabies?

You may not know you have scabies until a few weeks after mites are under your skin. Scabies mites are too small to be seen on your body. You may have any of the following:

  • Red, raised bumps on your skin
  • Bad itching that is usually worse at night
  • Burrow marks (short wavy lines) between your fingers, or on your ankles, elbows, groin, armpits, or breasts

How is scabies diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will examine your skin. The provider will put mineral oil on your skin and scrape it across with a small blade. The skin scraping will be checked under a microscope for eggs, mites, or their droppings. Your healthcare provider may want to treat scabies even if signs of mites are not found. Several kinds of medicine may be used to treat scabies. The medicine may be a cream or pill. Always follow the directions for the scabies medicine you are told to use.

  • Your healthcare provider may tell you to rub a thin layer of the medicine onto your entire body from the neck down.
  • Leave the cream on for the amount of time that is required for the medicine you are using. This may be between 8 to 14 hours.
  • Take a bath or shower to wash all medicine from your skin after the scabies treatment is done.
  • Put on clean clothes after you have rinsed the medicine off. You may need another scabies treatment in about 7 to 10 days if you continue to have symptoms.

What can I do about the itching?

Your skin may continue to itch for 2 or 3 weeks, even after the scabies mites are gone. Over-the-counter antihistamines or cortisone cream may help relieve itching. Trim your fingernails so you do not spread any mites that are still alive after treatment. Do not scratch your skin. Scratches may cause a skin infection. A cool bath may also help relieve the itching.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How do I prevent the spread of scabies?

  • Have all family members use scabies medicine. Tell all sex partners and anyone who has shared your clothing or bed for the past month about the scabies. Tell them to ask their healthcare provider for scabies medicine even if they have no itching, rash, or burrow marks.
  • Wash all items that you have used since 3 days before you learned about your scabies. Use hot water to wash all clothing, bedding, and towels. Dry them for at least 20 minutes on the hot cycle of a dryer. Take items to be dry cleaned that cannot be washed in a washing machine. Place any clothing or bedding that cannot be washed or dry cleaned in a closed plastic bag for 1 week.
  • Do not have close body contact with anyone until the scabies mites are gone. Talk to your healthcare provider about how long you need to wait. Also ask about public places to avoid, such as the gym.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You develop a fever and red, swollen, painful areas on your skin.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • The bites become crusty or filled with pus.
  • You have worsening itching after scabies treatment.
  • You have new bite or burrow marks after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Treatment options

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.