Scabies is caused by tiny parasitic mites that can be passed from one person to another by close body contact or sexual contact. Treatment is simple and involves using a special cream, lotion or shampoo.

What is it?

Scabies is caused by tiny parasitic mites that are smaller than a pinhead and burrow into the skin and lay eggs.

These mites can be found on the hands, between the fingers, on the wrists and elbows, underneath the arms, on the abdomen, on the breasts (around the nipples in women), around the buttocks, on the feet and ankles and in the genital area.

How do I catch it?

You can catch scabies through close body contact or sexual contact with someone who is infected with the mites.

The mites can live up to 72 hours off the body, so scabies can be spread by bedding, towels and clothing.

What symptoms could I have?

Symptoms that you should look out for include:

  • Tiny spots or an itchy red rash. The diagnosis can sometimes be difficult because the rash can look like other itchy skin conditions, such as eczema.
  • Intense itching in the affected areas. This might only be noticed at night or it might become worse after a hot bath or shower or in bed at night.
  • Raw, broken skin or inflammation in the affected areas. This is usually caused by scratching.

The signs and symptoms of scabies can take up to 6 weeks to appear after coming into contact with an infected person.

How do I test for it?

If you're itching or have been in contact with scabies it's worth carefully examining your genital skin and hands. You may notice itchy lumps over your genitals or scabbed small lines on your hands, wrists or between your fingers. A diagnosis can be made by careful examination in the sexual health clinic if need be.

You can use the service finder to find a testing service near you.

How do you treat it?

Treating scabies is simple and involves using a special shampoo, lotion or cream. These can be purchased over the counter from a pharmacy.

It is important to wash your towels and bedding in a washing machine on a very hot cycle (50oC or higher). This will kill the lice, preventing re-infection.

Even if the treatment is successful, the rash or itching might continue for a few weeks. Special creams or tablets (antihistamines), or anti-irritant lotions such as calamine can help to ease the itching.

Make sure your sexual partners and close contacts in your household are treated at the same time. This should be done even if they don’t have any signs or symptoms because they could be in the six week period between infection and when symptoms start to appear.