What is a Scabies Bug? All About This Itchy Infestation

Scabies is a skin infestation caused by the human itch mite, Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis. These microscopic mites burrow into the upper layer of your skin, where they live and lay eggs. When afflicted with scabies, you’ll likely experience intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash. The condition is usually spread through direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

You might be wondering how to identify a scabies bug. Unfortunately, due to their microscopic nature, they’re not visible to the naked eye. However, recognizing the symptoms of scabies, such as persistent itching and a rash, can help in determining whether you have been affected by the infestation.

In some cases, scabies can lead to more serious complications if left untreated. As such, it is essential for you to consult a healthcare professional if you suspect you may have scabies. They can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment to alleviate your discomfort and prevent the spread of these pesky mites.

Understanding Scabies

Scabies is a skin infestation caused by the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis). These tiny mites burrow into the upper layer of your skin, lay their eggs, and cause intense itching and a pimple-like rash.

Female mites are responsible for burrowing and laying eggs. In most cases, human scabies is transmitted through direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact. Some of the common features of scabies infestations include:

  • Persistent itching, often worse at night
  • Pimple-like rash
  • Redness and inflammation around burrowed areas
  • Risk of secondary infections from scratching

To prevent the spread of scabies, it is important to practice good hygiene, avoid close contact with infected individuals, and follow appropriate treatment guidelines if you become infected.

Symptoms of Scabies

Physical Symptoms

Scabies is caused by the infestation of the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis), which burrows into your skin and lays its eggs 1. The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash 2.

As the mites burrow and lay eggs, they cause small, skin-colored bumps and blisters on your skin. They can appear anywhere on your body, but typically occur in skin folds like the elbow, knee, and between fingers 3. The itching can be more severe at night, in bed for example, and may even lead to sleep disturbances 4.

Effects on Different Age Groups

Scabies can affect people of all ages, but the symptoms and severity may vary.

  • Adults: For adults, scabies tends to present as more of a rash. The rash can be found in different parts of the body like the hands, wrists, and between fingers and toes 5. The itching can be quite intense and may lead to secondary infections if left untreated.

  • Children: In children, scabies is usually more severe. The itching and rash can be found not only on their hands and feet but also on areas such as their head, neck, and face 6. Kids may scratch the irritated areas too much, which can lead to skin infections or impetigo7.

  • Infants and young children: Infants and young children are more vulnerable to scabies due to their immature immune systems. The symptoms in this age group may include more widespread and severe rashes, and even develop crusted scabies in rare cases, which involves a thicker crust on the skin and a higher number of mites 8.

It’s important to know the symptoms of scabies to identify and treat the condition as soon as possible. Early treatment can help prevent further complications and reduce the spread of the infestation.

How Scabies Spreads

Scabies is an infestation caused by the microscopic human itch mite, Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis, and spreads mainly through direct skin-to-skin contact. Let’s dive deeper into the ways scabies can spread among people.

Direct Skin-to-Skin Contact

The most common way scabies spreads is through prolonged, close contact with an infected person. Examples of such contact include:

  • Within family members living together
  • At work or school where you frequently interact with others
  • In nursing homes or prisons with close living conditions
  • Between sexual partners

Scabies mites can travel from one person to another even with brief skin-to-skin contact, such as a handshake, if one of the individuals has a form of scabies called Norwegian (crusted) scabies.

Indirect Contact

Indirect transmission of scabies is less common but can occur. This may include contact with:

  • Clothing
  • Bedding
  • Furniture

That said, scabies mites typically cannot survive more than two to three days away from human skin, so fumigating or spraying living areas is unnecessary.

In summary, to protect yourself from scabies, be cautious in situations where close contact with others is inevitable. Stay vigilant about your personal hygiene and take preventative measures if you suspect someone close to you might have a scabies infestation.

Scabies Lifecycle and Burrows

Scabies is caused by the infestation of the skin by the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis). These microscopic mites burrow into the upper layer of the skin where they live and lay their eggs.

The lifecycle of scabies mites includes four stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Female mites lay eggs in the burrows they create in your skin. In about 3-4 days, the eggs hatch into larvae, which then migrate to the skin surface. The larvae form burrows or tunnels, where they mature into nymphs within 4-5 days. Nymphs then develop into adult mites over another 4-5 days.

Adult mites mate and the females burrow back into your skin to lay more eggs, continuing the cycle. The entire lifecycle takes around 10-14 days.

Burrows, also known as tunnels, are a key characteristic of scabies infestations. The mites create these burrows within the upper layer of the human skin as a place to live, lay eggs, and excrete waste. These burrows are typically very thin, wavy lines that can be difficult to see, often appearing as tiny, raised, zigzag patterns on the skin.

In summary:

  • Scabies mites burrow into the upper layer of the skin.
  • Their lifecycle includes egg, larva, nymph, and adult stages.
  • Female mites lay eggs, which hatch into larvae, then develop into nymphs and adults.
  • The entire lifecycle takes about 10-14 days.

Remember, if you suspect that you have scabies, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.

Identifying Scabies on the Body

Scabies is a skin infestation caused by the human itch mite, Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis. These microscopic mites burrow into the upper layer of your skin and lay eggs, causing itching and a pimple-like rash1. Here’s how to identify scabies on your body.

Typically, scabies rashes are found in areas where the skin folds or where the mite can easily burrow. Some common locations include:

  • Between your fingers
  • Around your wrists and elbows
  • At your waist
  • On the palms of your hands and soles of your feet
  • In your armpits
  • On your buttocks and genitals

These rashes may appear as small red bumps or blisters, often accompanied by intense itching1. The itching and rash usually worsen in the evening or when you’re warm1. Scratching may cause the bumps to become scaly, crusted, or infected with bacteria1.

One distinct feature of scabies is the presence of burrows on your skin. These are thin, gray or light brown lines, often less than half an inch long1. Mites create these burrows as they tunnel under your skin1. You might spot them on the sides of your fingers, around your wrists, or in the folds of your skin1.

In more severe cases, scabies can affect other areas of your body such as:

  • Nipples and breast area
  • Soles of the feet
  • Elbows
  • Armpits

If you suspect you have scabies, it’s important to see a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. They can confirm the presence of mites, eggs, or mite fecal matter with a simple examination or skin scraping2.

Diagnosis and Testing for Scabies

When you suspect you have scabies, visiting your doctor is the first step to getting an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor will examine your skin, noting the affected areas and symptoms. To confirm the presence of scabies, a skin scraping is often performed. This involves gently scraping a small area of your skin to collect a sample, which will be placed under a microscope.

The microscope helps to identify the scabies mite, eggs, or fecal matter within the skin sample. Finding any of these microscopic elements can confirm the diagnosis of scabies. The process might feel a bit uncomfortable but is essential for a definite conclusion.

Some of the characteristics of scabies diagnostic process are:

  • Visual examination by a doctor
  • Skin scraping procedure
  • Microscopic analysis

By following these steps, you can expect an accurate diagnosis of your scabies condition. Remember to consult with your doctor as soon as you notice any scabies-related symptoms, so you can receive prompt and appropriate treatment.

Treatment and Medical Intervention

Medications and Creams

Scabies is an infestation of the skin caused by the human itch mite, Sarcoptes scabiei. To treat scabies, you can use prescription medications, such as creams or lotions. One commonly used treatment is permethrin, a topical cream.

When using a prescribed cream or lotion, make sure to apply it to your entire body, including under your nails and between your fingers and toes. For infants and young children, also cover their head and neck areas.

  • Advantages of creams and lotions:
    • Easy to apply
    • Effective in killing mites
  • Disadvantages of creams and lotions:
    • May require multiple applications
    • Might cause skin irritation for some

Another option to consider in treating scabies is oral medication, such as ivermectin. This medication can be prescribed by a doctor and works by killing the mites. However, it is not recommended for pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children under 15 kg (33 lbs).

Secondary Infections

If the skin becomes infected as a result of scratching the infested areas, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to help treat the secondary infection. It’s essential to follow the instructions given by your doctor for both the scabies treatment and antibiotic use to ensure the best results.

  • Tips to prevent secondary infections:
    • Keep nails short and clean
    • Avoid sharing clothing, towels, or bedding with others
    • Wash affected clothing, bedding, and towels frequently

Remember, prompt treatment and medical intervention can help manage scabies effectively and prevent complications.

Prevention and Control Measures

Personal Hygiene

Good personal hygiene is crucial to prevent scabies. Regularly washing your hands and body can help prevent the scabies bug from spreading or entering your skin. Here are some useful steps for maintaining proper hygiene:

  • Bathe or shower daily with soap and warm water
  • Put on clean clothes every day, avoid wearing red clothing which sometimes attracts bugs
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels, bedding, and brushes
  • If you suspect you have scabies, contact a healthcare professional for treatment

Household Cleaning

Taking care of your household cleanliness is equally essential in preventing scabies infestations. Focus on regularly cleaning clothes, bedding, and furniture. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Wash clothing, bedding, and cloth items in hot water (minimum of 130°F or 54°C) to kill the scabies mites
  • Seal non-washable items (e.g., stuffed toys) in a plastic bag for several days to a week, as scabies mites cannot survive without human skin contact for 72 hours
  • Dry-clean items that are not machine-washable
  • Vacuum floors, carpets, and upholstery to remove mites and their eggs
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces, including furniture, where the mites might reside

Complications and Special Cases of Scabies

Scabies is a skin condition caused by the burrowing of the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis) into the upper layer of your skin. It leads to intense itching and a pimple-like rash, and it’s primarily spread through skin-to-skin contact 1. In some cases, scabies can cause complications or manifest differently. This section focuses on some of those situations.

Crusted Scabies

Also known as Norwegian scabies or scaly scabies, crusted scabies is a more severe form. It’s characterized by thick crusts and scales on your skin, usually caused by a large number of mites 2. Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV, are more susceptible due to their body’s inability to control mite infestations.

Complications

Scratching the itch can lead to other complications such as impetigo, bacterial infections, and cellulitis. When you scratch, you create openings your skin, which allows bacteria to enter and cause infections.

Allergic Reactions and Dermatitis

Some people may develop an allergic reaction to the scabies mite or its saliva, feces, or eggs, leading to severe dermatitis1. This can exacerbate the itching and rash, making the condition more uncomfortable.

Mange in Animals

It’s important to note that scabies can also affect animals, particularly dogs, in a condition known as mange. Mange is caused by a closely related mite species and can cause similar symptoms, including itching and scaling 3.

To summarize, scabies can present complications and special cases, including:

  • Crusted scabies, which is more severe and characterized by thick crusts and scales.
  • Complications from scratching, such as infections and impetigo.
  • Allergic reactions and dermatitis resulting from sensitivity to the mites or their by-products.
  • Mange in animals caused by a related mite species.

Always consult a healthcare professional if you suspect a scabies infestation, particularly if you experience complications or are in a high-risk group. Early intervention can help avoid complications and provide relief.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/index.html 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

  2. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html 2 3

  3. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html 2

  4. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html

  5. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html

  6. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html

  7. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html

  8. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Scabies Infestation

 

THANK YOU
PLEASE KEEP THIS E-MAIL/PICTURES ANONYMOUS, although you can feel free to post it or sections of it.
Background:
Last Summer, I heard about whatsthatbug.com on NPR. I sent you a few pictures and read almost every page. It’s been a few months since I visited the site (sorry)…
Story: A little over a week ago, my wife (an inner-city school teacher) had to physically restrain a student involved in a fight. Her hands and fore-arms contacted his hands, forearms and shoulders for a total of several minutes. Two nights ago, she complained of bad itching on her hands and forearm. The next day it seemed to go away. But, the next afternoon, seemingly out of nowhere, she broke out in a rash of sorts all over her forearms and behind her legs. As evening approached, she said the itching had become unbearable. At first, we thought it was an allergic reaction to a new soap she had recently bought, so we were going to buy some benadryl and leave it at that. THEN I remembered a story from whatsthatbug.com about scabies. The night time itching-increase was my memory trigger. We went to an urgent care facility and, with no prompting from us, the doctor declared that she had scabies! Our best guess about contact is the student, as we have traveled nowhere in years, and not shared any clothing with others. She and I have been prescribed the 12 hour cream, and I am currently in my 9th hour of treatment (I was treated because I share her bed and have had skin contact). We also have to wash all of our clothes and linens in hot water and we left our pillows outside overnight in 15 degree weather, because freezing often kills them, too. I’d like to thank you for posting the story about scabies on your site, because we might have waited another day or so without getting treatment if I hadn’t read it! By then, who knows how much worse it would have gotten for everybody in our family! Attached are pictures of her "rash", although the fact that she scratched them up makes it a bit harder to identify as a typical scabies rash (so says the doctor). Still thought it might make a nice addition to the page.
AGAIN, PLEASE KEEP ANONYMOUS.

Dear Anonymous,
Teaching in the school system, be it public or private, elementary or college level, is often similar to living in a Petrie Dish. Though we sympathize with your situation, we are happy to hear our site was helpful. We hope you both stop itching soon.

Letter 2 – Scabies

 

Dear Bug Man,
I received the following letter and thought it might make an interesting addition to your American Homebody column, “What’s That Bug?” It’s from my cousin Kaya Adams, who is currently residing in Kigali, Rwanda, acquainting herself with the local insect population.

Dear Lisa Anne,
I feel compelled to share my own critter tale in response to your disturbing mite write of July 4th Homebody. As you know, I too was a victim of tiny visitors a little over a year ago, while travelling to and from England. About two weeks after returning from a friend’s wedding in SC, I developed itchy little bumps in the webs between my fingers. Friends advised me this was probably eczema from the hard water in Britain, but moisturizers and hand creams did nothing. The over-the-counter pharmacist at Boots prescribed Cortisone, thinking it could be an allergic reaction. Instead of clearing up, it spread. Itching was bad enough during the day — wreaking havoc on my concentration at work — but it was utterly intolerable at night, when I would peel off every chafing layer and lie in bed trying to let mind overcome matter. After two weeks, I went to the doctor, who immediately told me I had been infested with scabies!

What, you might ask (as I did), are scabies? They are little burrowing parasites which cling to fabric fibers before puncturing your skin and crawling inside. They then lay their eggs into your bloodstream, enabling them to travel all through your body. The itching is worse at night in correspondence to their most active life cycle. The original animals eventually die and get sloughed off with your dead skin, but until they do, their bodies are visible as tiny grey dots in each bump. The bump is actually your body’s reaction to this foreign inhabitant. The only way to cure scabies is to coat your body

Letter 3 – Scabies or Not???

 

Subject: How are you at identifying idiots?
Location: My Entire Body (PDX, OR)
September 24, 2013 11:29 am
I think I must be one, idiot that is. Recovering myself from yet another bout of complete hysteria, I gathered myself together and decided to check my email. I noticed and opened the auto confirmation the system sent in reference to my first letter.
As I re-read it, I realized that my poorly worded letter seems to be asking you to look at hundreds of photos, and generously offers to let you view hundreds more if you can’t identify anything from the first few hundred. This cannot be further from what I was actually trying to ask. I only meant to ask if you wouldn’t mind looking at the three photos I submitted with my original inquiry and give me your opinion and if those three weren’t any good I meant I could choose another three from the hundreds that I have that might be better suited for identification. I apologize for any confusion. In my defense I claim my advanced age of 46 and what can only be massive blood loss from bed bugs.
The system required me to upload more photos. You might have to look closely at Image 3. In the bottom center of the picture is what I think is a scabie. Would love to be wrong though.
Thanks
Signature: KillMeKnow

Possibly Scabies
Possibly Scabies

Dear KillMeKnow,
The best and surest method for a conclusive Scabies identification is to check with a physician.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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6 thoughts on “What is a Scabies Bug? All About This Itchy Infestation”

  1. I know firsthand what it’s like to suffer from scabies. I had it in middle school and the itch truly was unbearable. I was treated and had to go through the ritual clothing/bedsheet washing. I remember writhing on the floor, crying because of the overbearing itching sensation…

    Reply
  2. Scabies is spread by direct, prolonged physical contact including sexual activity. It is thought that about 20 minutes of touching is required. Scabies mites can survive away from humans for about 24–36 hours, so it is possible to get scabies from infected articles such as bed linen and clothing, although this is much less common. Scabies is common around the world and can affect anyone. Pets do not cause human scabies infections. ,-“‘

    With best regards <http://healthwellnesslab.com/index.php/

    Reply
  3. Scabies is spread by direct, prolonged physical contact including sexual activity. It is thought that about 20 minutes of touching is required. Scabies mites can survive away from humans for about 24–36 hours, so it is possible to get scabies from infected articles such as bed linen and clothing, although this is much less common. Scabies is common around the world and can affect anyone. Pets do not cause human scabies infections. ,-“‘

    With best regards <http://healthwellnesslab.com/index.php/

    Reply
  4. I had scabies twice. Once when I had an infant son that was in diapers and then again about 6 years ago. Yes, the nighttime itching is hallmark to this unsavory condition. They come out at night and itch and itch in the webs between your fingers and as I recall, they were on my torso, front and back.

    Have no idea how I contracted these miserable little creatures but the treatment is generally Permethrin cream. The circular states that one dose of the cream on your entire body from the neck down for 24 hours and repeat this same treatment one week later.(although the inclination is to put it on everyday until gone, just try to do as the drug company suggests)

    Scabies sounds like you have leprosy or something. But if you wash your sheets, change your towels everyday, go the extra mile regarding cleanliness, the in about 2 weeks after the Premethrin , you should start to feel normal again and not like a crazy person, clawing yourself to death when the sun goes down!

    It was explained to me that the Scabie bug burrows into the webs of your hands during the day and come out at night. The second treatment is to kill the hatchlings that these parasites have produced while using your body as it’s host.

    Reply

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