sick child

Find information on the causes of Scabies infection, what to look for and how scabies is treated. We provide advice about the signs and symptoms, treatments, risks and complications of scabies.

What causes scabies?

Scabies is caused by microscopic mites that burrow into the skin, lay eggs and causes an itchy rash. It is highly contagious and is contracted by being in direct contact with someone who already has the condition – for example by touching skin-to-skin, holding hands or hugging. It can also be picked up through infected bedding or furniture and by sharing infected clothing.

The condition is not considered serious, but can be very uncomfortable particularly at night, when itchiness can be extreme. Scabies is very contagious so it needs rapid treatment. Scabies eggs come to maturity within 10 days and a female mite can lay up to three eggs daily for her lifetime of 1-2 months. Often a person with mites will have around 10 adult mites laying eggs in their skin.

To get rid of scabies you need specific treatment for everyone in the household, at the same time, so you do not reinfect each other – even if other family members are not feeling itchy.

What are the signs & symptoms of scabies?

  • Small blisters surrounded by red patches, which are very itchy
  • Scabies can look like a series of pimples topped with scabs
  • It causes a very itchy rash on the back of hands, between fingers, on wrists, feet, ankles and toes
  • The most common site for scabies infection is between the fingers
  • Mites can also be found under the buttocks, on the soles of the feet, back of heels and in the armpits
  • In babies, blisters can appear on the palms of hands and soles of feet
  • Often you can see the mite burrows as a grey trail across the skin – the black pinhead at the end of the trail is the actual scabies mite
  • Itching gets worse at night when the body is warm

What is the treatment for scabies?

Seek medical attention when those infected are women in pregnancy or for children less than two years old. Regular treatment and remedies involve:

  • Purchasing a treatment cream/ointment from your chemist, or on prescription from your doctor
  • The treatment stays on the skin for 24 hours and will probably need to be repeated within a week
  • Remember to reapply treatment cream every time you wash your hands during this 24 hour period
  • Treat your child and other family members in the evening, following a bath or shower just before going to bed. All family members need treatment, even if they are not feeling itchy
  • Treat the entire body from feet to jaw, paying particular attention under nails and between toes and fingers
  • Mites can live outside the skin for up to 6 days, so good hygiene and cleansing is important to prevent reinfection with the mite
  • Secondary skin infections may need treatment with antibiotics
  • If the itching does not go away, repeat the treatment – it may take up to a month to fully clear the scabies infection – though often one treatment will be effective
  • If the treatment does not seem to be effective, then visit a doctor

Risks & complications of scabies

  • Excessive scratching can cause breaks in the skin and lead to skin infection
  • Leaving scabies untreated for a long time can lead to permanent scarring of the infected area
  • Cellulitis (an inflammation of the skin layers) and impetigo (school sores) may be associated with a scabies infection
  • It is possible untreated skin infections could cause blood and kidney infections
  • In Norwegian or crusted scabies there can be thousands of mites but little itch; the appearance is more of a scaly rash which may also affect the scalp
  • Scabies can be found on the genitals and be sexually transmitted

What can I do for my child with scabies?

  • Seek treatment immediately from your local chemist
  • Keep children away from kindergartens and schools until 24 hours after treatment
  • Pay lots of attention to hygiene – bedding, towels, pillow slips, face cloths and clothes should be thoroughly and regularly washed to prevent reinfection
  • In the sunshine outside air duvets, pillows, blankets and other bedding that cannot be washed
  • Results are now showing that the New Zealand Manuka tea tree plant, used as a preparation of essential oil or in a cream, can also be successfully used to treat and prevent scabies.
  • Washing with Manuka soap is also helpful and the Manuka oil can be added to baths and to your clothes wash.
This is an essential family health reference, covering over 100 common, important, potentially serious and often worrying symptoms and emergencies, such as headaches, chest pain, dizziness, fever, bleeding, tiredness or stress. This classic bestseller has now been completely revised and updated to include the latest information on how to care for your sick child.

Helpful Articles

To find out more about School Sores (Impetigo) click here


Kimberley Paterson

Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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