Scabies, also known as scabies, is an unpleasant and contagious skin condition caused by the scabies mite Sarcoptes scabiei. In this blog we take a closer look at what scabies is, how you can recognize it, what symptoms it causes and what precautions you can take to prevent infection.
What is scabies?
Scabies and mites: Is a condition caused by infection with the scabies mite, a microscopic parasite. These mites are tiny, measuring just 0.2 to 0.4 millimeters, making them invisible to the naked eye. They belong to the family Sarcoptidae and have the scientific name Sarcoptes scabiei. These little creatures have four sets of legs and an oval shape, which sets them apart from other skin parasites.
The life cycle of the scabies mite: The life of a scabies mite begins as an egg, usually in the skin of the host. This egg produces a larva, which develops into a protonymph and eventually an adult mite. It is these adult mites that dig tunnels in the top layer of human skin. The female mites dig shallow tunnels to lay their eggs, while the male mites usually stay on the surface of the skin. Once mature, scabies mites are able to reproduce and continue the infection.
Tunneling and skin irritation: The mites dig tunnels in the skin, which present themselves as small squiggly lines on the skin. Female mites lay their eggs in these tunnels. This digging causes mechanical irritation and itching, leading to the intense symptoms characteristic of scabies. At the same time, the mites secrete chemicals that contribute to allergic reactions, such as redness and inflammation of the skin.
Symptoms of scabies:
Intense Itching: The intense itching associated with scabies is often unbearable and can cause severe discomfort. What exactly happens is that the scabies mites dig into the top layer of your skin to lay their eggs. This digging and the subsequent interaction between your skin and the mites lead to intense itching.
The itching is caused by sensitization (a type of “allergic” response) to the parasite’s proteins and feces. This itching is often worse at night, making it difficult to sleep well.
Skin rash: The skin rash that develops due to a scabies infection is an important feature. The small bumps, pimples or blisters may look like small red dots on the skin, and they tend to appear in groups.
The most common locations for this rash are between the fingers, on the wrists, elbows, armpits, the waist, the genital area, and the soles of the feet. This rash often develops in response to the mites living under your skin.
Wounds and Scratches: Due to the irresistible itching, infected people often get into a vicious circle of scratching and wound formation. Scratching the skin to seek relief often results in scratched areas that may bleed. This increases the risk of secondary bacterial infections, such as folliculitis. Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles that can lead to pus, red bumps and sometimes even abscesses. This underlines the urgency of treating scabies, as the itching is not only unbearable, but also carries potentially harmful complications.
In case of scabies, it is vital to consult a doctor as soon as you notice symptoms. Early treatment is more effective and can help reduce itching and prevent possible complications. It is also important to understand that scabies is highly contagious, so prompt diagnosis and treatment can also prevent further spread.
Read more about: Itch
It is extremely contagious and usually spreads from person to person through direct skin-to-skin contact. It is caused by microscopic creatures known as scabies mites, which can be transmitted through close and prolonged (15 minutes or more) physical contact or frequent, intensive interaction. In addition, contamination can occur if one shares bedding, clothing or towels with an infected person, as the mites can survive outside the human body for several days.
In summary: you can contract scabies mites by:
- At least 15 minutes or longer of skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies;
- Clothing use of each other and also towels and bed linen. Mites live for 3 days;
- Contact with pets. A pet does not get scabies itself, but by stroking and cuddling the scabies mite can temporarily enter the fur and survive there for 3 days.
In temperate climates, the number of cases is higher in autumn and winter than in summer. Factors that increase the risk of infection are poor hygiene, malnutrition, poverty, overcrowding, homelessness, limited access to healthcare, unsafe sexual contacts, dementia, reduced sensory perception and immunodeficiency.
How to Recognize Scabies – the quick Ink test!
A simple test, the ink test, can be used to diagnose possible scabies. Follow these steps:
- Choose a suspect skin area.
- Color a small area of the skin with an ordinary nontoxic ink pen or skin marker
- Wait 10 seconds
- Gently wipe the stained area with a gauze pad soaked in alcohol.
With a scabies infection you will see a characteristic J-hockey stick shaped line. The ink fills this tunnel and remains visible even after wiping away the ink.
Why does it continue to itch after treatment?
After successful treatment, some people may experience what is known as “post-scabies itch”. This is the itching that persists even after the scabies mites have been killed. This discomfort can have several causes:
- Residual irritation: It may happen that even after the scabies mites have been eliminated, the skin remains irritated due to their previous presence and the irritants they have left behind. This can result in persistent itching.
- Allergic reaction: The immune system may still react to the remaining remains of the mites and their waste products, which can result in persistent itching.
- Skin damage: The scratching resulting from the original scabies infection can damage the skin. Damaged skin may be more sensitive and prone to itching, even after healing.
- Also consider pets –
It is important to clean bedding, clothing and towels thoroughly because any remaining mites and their eggs can cause reinfection.
This persistent itching can vary in intensity and can last from several weeks to months. It is crucial not to scratch again as this can further damage the skin and slow the healing process. In some cases, the dermatologist may suggest additional treatments, such as a hormone ointment or antihistamine (anti-hay fever medication), to relieve the itching.
Iconic Elements Calming cream can support you with this. Enriched with soothing natural ingredients such as Marshmallow Root, Avena Sativa and Ectoine, this cream is a valuable addition to dermatological treatments to effectively reduce post-scabies itching and rebalance the skin. More about: Calming cream
Precautions and prevention:
- Personal hygiene: Keep yourself and your clothes clean. Wash your hands regularly, especially if you have been in contact with someone with scabies.
- Avoid skin-to-skin contact: Avoid close contact with someone who has scabies.
- Wash and Disinfect: Wash and disinfect bedding, towels and clothing thoroughly, especially if they have been in contact with an infected person.
- Treat Immediately: If you suspect you have scabies, seek medical attention immediately. It can be treated with special medications.
- Avoid Sharing: Avoid sharing personal items such as clothes, towels and bedding.
- Here are some tips to win the battle against scabies mites:
- Wear clean socks every day.
- Textile or cloth shoes can contain the scabies mite. Set these shoes aside for the first 3 days from the start of the treatment. Wear these shoes with socks. This is not necessary for leather shoes.
- Vacuum the carpet.
- Put up long hair during the treatment, both women and men.
- Put up long hair during the treatment, both women and men. You can wash the cuddly toys, vacuum them or put them aside for 3 days.
- Don’t forget to wash your dressing gown and slippers or set them aside for 3 days.
- Also vacuum fabric car seats in the summer if you have sat on them with bare legs/bare shoulders. Do not use a steam cleaner.
- In winter, wash your scarves, gloves, hats and earmuffs at 60ºC, or do not use them for 3 days after treatment.
- Fabric covers of a telephone, laptop or iPad also need to be cleaned.
- Set aside used clothing for 3 days before wearing it.
These tips can help combat scabies mites and prevent the condition from spreading. It is important to take scabies treatment seriously and follow all instructions from a doctor or dermatologist.
Read more about this: RIVM en Scabies
Scabies can be very uncomfortable, but with proper treatment and precautions it is completely manageable and curable. If suspected, consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.