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Scabies is a very itchy rash caused by a small, eight-legged mite called Sarcoptes scabiei, which burrows into the skin. Scabies is usually spread by close, prolonged skin-to-skin contact (e.g. holding hands), and is common in school-aged children.
If left untreated, scabies can spread to all members of the family via linen, couches and towels. The mites and their eggs may live on clothes or bed linen for one to two days.
It is often difficult to diagnose scabies, because the symptoms vary and the signs can be very subtle. The symptoms of scabies are caused by an allergic reaction to the mites, and commonly include:
Scabies occurs when a number of mites (10 or more) burrow into the skin. This often happens between the fingers, in the armpits and belly button, and on the wrists, elbows, nipples, penis and scrotum. The burrows may be visible. In infants and young children, there are often fluid-filled
bumps on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, and sometimes on the scalp in infants.
The bumps or lesions caused by scabies are generally small, and may be hard to see. Sometimes the only symptom is the itch, without a rash.
The symptoms of scabies usually appear two to four weeks after infection, although people who have previously been infected may develop symptoms within two days.
If you think your child has scabies, see your GP. The doctor may make a diagnosis by scraping a burrow and looking at that skin under a microscope.
Your doctor will recommend the appropriate treatment, which you can buy over the counter at the pharmacy.
Anyone who has close contact with your child should be treated at the same time, because scabies is easily spread, particularly throughout a household. Treatment should be repeated one week after the first treatment because it's possible to be reinfected. It is OK for your child to go back to
child care, kindergarten or school 24 hours after the first treatment.
No. Pets do not cause human
scabies infections, and there is no need to treat household animals if there is
an outbreak of scabies in your family.
everyone in the family have the treatment, even if they show no symptoms?
Yes, because it is likely
that everyone in the family will have been infected by scabies. In some people,
the symptoms are so subtle they may not realise they have been infected.
Are the recommended
treatments safe for children with sensitive skin or eczema?
Yes, the creams used to
treat scabies do not often cause irritation. Having scabies can worsen existing
eczema, so treating the scabies is more important than risking a reaction to
the creams used.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Dermatology and Emergency departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed April 2018.
This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.
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