Merck Manual

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Reviewed/Revised Apr 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
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What is scabies?

Scabies is an itchy rash. It's caused by tiny insects called mites.

  • The mites get into your skin and lay eggs

  • The mites spread easily to other people through physical contact

  • The rash itches very badly

  • Doctors treat scabies with a medicated cream

What causes scabies?

Scabies is caused by a certain type of mite. The mite tunnels into your skin to lay eggs. This causes severe itching and a rash.

You can get scabies by coming into contact with someone who has scabies. You can also get scabies by using the same towels, bedding, or clothes used by someone who has scabies.

What are the symptoms of scabies?

  • Severe itching that's usually worse at night

  • A rash of tiny red bumps that sometimes form in a straight line

  • The bumps usually are on the fingers, wrists, and arms but can be anywhere on your body (except on an adult’s face)

  • Babies may also get the rash on their face, scalp (especially behind the ears), palms of their hands, or soles of their feet

  • Older people may have a very mild rash, making it harder to see

  • If you have HIV infection, scabies may spread all over your body

How can doctors tell if I have scabies?

  • Doctors can usually tell based on your symptoms and by looking at your rash

  • Sometimes, doctors will scrape one or two bumps open

  • They will look at the scrapings under a microscope to see the mites

How do doctors treat scabies?

Doctors will treat you, your family members, and anyone else who’s had close contact with you.

To kill the mites

Adults and children age 2 and over:

  • Put a medicated cream suggested by your doctor on your entire body from the neck down

  • Wash it off after 8 to 14 hours

For babies under age 2:

  • Put a different medicated cream suggested by your doctor on the baby's body and head

  • The cream shouldn't go on the skin around the baby’s eyes and mouth

  • The cream should go in the folds of the baby’s skin, on fingernails and toenails, and in the belly button

After the mites are killed, you may still have itching and bumps for up to 3 more weeks. Doctors may have you:

  • Put a mild medicated cream on the rash or take medicine by mouth to help relieve the itching

  • Take an antibiotic if you get a skin infection from scratching your skin a lot

How can I keep scabies from spreading?

Mites spread easily from person to person, sometimes to everyone in your household. To keep scabies from spreading:

  • See a doctor as soon as you have symptoms

  • Have doctors treat you, your family members, and anyone who’s had close contact (including sexual contact) with you

Also, kill mites that may be on your clothing, towels, and bedding by doing one of the following:

  • Wash them in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer

  • Have them professionally dry cleaned

  • Put them in a closed plastic bag for at least 3 days so that the mites die

Most people get scabies in a place where there are a lot of people, such as a school or in the military. Getting scabies is not related to being unclean.

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