January 29th, 2009
Scabies is an infection of the itch mite Sarcoptes scabiei. The itch mite is an eight-legged parasite and not an insect as many people believe. Insects have only six legs. The itch mite is relatively invisible to the naked eye and is usually only 0.3 millimeters in length. The mite is transferred by direct contact with other infected people. They can be transferred via clothing and linens, but they only live for 36 hours once detached from a host. Scabies causes severe itching, which is almost always worse at night. The itch mite is found in all parts of the world and on all groups of people.
The itch mites like to dig their little skin homes in certain parts of the body, such as in between fingers, in armpits,on waistlines, inside of our wrists, on buttocks, around breasts, backs of our elbows, around ankles, on the soles of our feet, and on genitals. Their home or burrow is typically an oblong, round shape. A doctor may locate an itch mite at the end of the burrow and remove it to confirm diagnosis. Scabies is not a serious infection, but it is really annoying and extra gross.
Once you suspect you have been infected, you should see a doctor to confirm. The doctor will be able to properly diagnose the infection. When the doctor has confirmed a case of scabies, he or she will recommend a course of treatment, which will probably include some or all of the following steps.
Wash yourself, family, pets, and clothing with soap and water. Also, any sexual partners you have had recently should be notified so they can get medication to kill any mites on their bodies. Vacuum your home, furniture, carpets, and curtains frequently while you are being treated. Wash your bed linens in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer to make sure the itch mites are dead. Itch mites will die after 36 hours without a host. But, most importantly, anyone living with you, or that you bump uglies with, is at risk for an infection, so they should also be receiving treatment for scabies.
There are many topical ointments that will get rid of the itch mite. There are two types of mite-killing medication: permethrin (Acticin and Elimite) and lindane (Biowell and Kwell). Lindane should not be used by pregnant women and children under the age of two. It may cause seizures in people with significantly irritated skin or rashes. Sounds like a lovely little concoction, doesn't it? Your doctor will be able to prescribe the best topical ointment for you, but I would stay away from the lindane stuff.
Antihistamine ointments will do absolutely nothing for the scabies, but it may help with the itch. One of the worst things you can do once you have been infected with scabies is to scratch the burrows. Scratching will increase the size of the burrows and introduce bacteria into the wound, which may end in a bacterial infection, adding ten-fold to your problem. One way to avoid scratching your itches is to use an antihistamine cream like Benadryl to calm the urge.
The anti-parasitic medication ivermectin is now being used to get rid of scabies, too. Originally used to treat parasitic worms, ivermectin has been shown to be as effective as lindane at getting rid of scabies. It is easier to take as it is in a pill form and does not require a head-to-toe rub-down on a daily basis. It is currently being used in world-wide parasitic eradication programs. The CDC does not recommend ivermectin for pregnant or lactating individuals.
Preventing Future Outbreaks
Scabies certainly isn't the worst infection we can get, but it might be the most annoying. The thought of little disgusting creepy crawlies in my skin makes me nauseous. With this disgusting visual imagery in mind, it's important to talk about how we can prevent another outbreak of the itch mite. As you are treating yourself and the others in your home, wash all bedding in hot water and dry it in a hot dryer. Vacuum the floor, carpets, upholstery, curtains, and anything else you can't get in the washing machine. Make sure that everyone is treating their scabies like the doctor instructed. After the treatment is over, you may still experience itching even though the mites are gone. If new burrows appear after the treatment is completed, go back to the doctor to resume treatment. The doctor may prescribe something with a little more kick for you this time. And do everything the same as the first time you got scabies. I really hope you never get scabies. It sounds awful. But if you do, I hope this article helps you.