Scabies – an Introduction
Scabies is an inflamed, highly infectious skin disease caused by the infestation of itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei. Scabies mites are tiny, microscopic eight-legged parasites that live under the skin of humans. They are just 1/3 millimeter long, and burrow into the skin to produce intense itching that tends to be worse at night.
The mites that infest humans are female and are 0.3 mm-0.4 mm long in size. Scabies mites cannot be seen with naked eyes, they can be seen only with a magnifying glass or microscope. The scabies mites crawl and are immobile at temperatures below 20 C. However, they may survive for prolonged periods at these temperatures.
Scabies infestation is prevalent throughout the world and is very common. In America, every year, around 30 million cases of scabies occur. It can affect anyone of any age or race. Human scabies has been reported for over 2,500 years. The worst part is that even newbies and children are prone to scabies.
Scabies has been reported to occur in crowdy places like nursing homes, long-term care facilities, schools, and other institutions. In the U.S., scabies generally affects the homeless population. It also occurs periodically in other populations of all socio-economic groups.
As said above, anyone can get scabies. Scabies can be transmitted by two means: direct skin-to-skin contact and indirect transmission.
Because skin-to-skin contact is the most common way to contract scabies, the following people are especially vulnerable:
- Mothers of young children.
- Sexually active adults.
- Residents of nursing homes, hospitals, and extended-care facilities.
People with a weakened immune system have also an increased risk of getting scabies, especially the elderly. Also, people who have a weak immune system due to disease such as HIV/AIDS, or leukemia are more susceptible to scabies.
People who received an organ transplant also have a higher risk.
Scabies is very contagious. This is the reason that when one person in a household gets scabies, other family members in the house are likely to get it.
Crusted scabies – worst form of scabies, is especially contagious. The patient forms hard skin crust that can fall off often. This shed crust can provide food for the mites, which can allow them to survive for as long as 1 week without human contact.
Scabies can also transmit even when people do not show any signs or symptoms. A person who never had scabies often does not have any signs or symptoms for 2 to 6 weeks. This can sometimes worsen the case in the absence of treatment.
People contract scabies when the scabies mites burrow into the skin. You can get the mite on your skin through:
Direct skin-to-skin contact
Scabies mites are very profound to their environment where they live. They can live off of a host body for about 24-36 hours under extreme circumstances.
Transmission of the mites involves close person-to-person contact of the skin. It is hard to catch scabies by shaking hands. But it can be transmitted if the person has crusted scabies. Sexual physical contact can easily transmit the disease. In fact, it is the most common form of transmission among sexually active people. This is the reason why scabies has been considered as a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Other forms of physical contact, such as mothers feeding or hugging their children can also spread the mites. Close friends and relatives, over time, can contract it this way too. Although, schools are a susceptible place to transmit disease, the settings there do not usually provide the level of prolonged personal contact necessary for transmission of the mites.
- Contact with the belongings of the infected person or infested objects such as a towel, bedding, or upholstered furniture, hanging your coat next to someone who has it, or even sharing bedclothes that had mites in them can transmit scabies.
- You cannot get scabies from an animal that has mites. This is because scabies mites are species specific.
So, people usually get scabies from prolonged skin to skin contacts like prolonged handshake or hug, sexual activities, or sleeping with the infested person. Try avoiding any sort of contact with the infested person and his/her belongings. Proper treatment is a must for the patient as well as the other family members.