Scabies at a Glance
- A skin condition
- Common symptoms include intensely itchy, small bumps or rashes
- Treatment is available
- Easily spread through close contact, including sex play
- There are ways to reduce your risk of infection
We all want to protect ourselves and each other from infections like scabies. Learning more about scabies is an important first step.
Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about scabies. We hope you find the answers helpful, whether you think you may have scabies, have been diagnosed with it, or are just curious about it.
What Is Scabies?
You may have heard of scabies, but many people are not sure what it is. Scabies (SKAY-beez) is a skin condition caused by the scabies mite. The mite burrows under the skin. It is so small it can hardly be seen with the naked eye. It belongs to the same family as the spider.
Scabies is usually sexually transmitted. However, children often pass it to one another and to adults through everyday contact.
What Are the Symptoms of Scabies?
Often the symptoms of scabies are not visible. When there are symptoms, they may include
- intense itching — usually at night
- small bumps or rashes that appear in dirty-looking, small curling lines, especially on the penis, between the fingers, on buttocks, breasts, wrists, and thighs, and around the belly button
It usually takes 3–4 weeks for the symptoms of scabies to develop. But if you've recently had scabies and get reinfected, you may have itching within hours.
How Can I Know If I Have Scabies?
Although people can sometimes figure out on their own that they have scabies, it's often difficult to make a diagnosis yourself. Your health care provider can examine a scraping from your skin with a microscope to see if you have scabies. Sometimes a biopsy, or skin sample, may be necessary.
Is There a Treatment for Scabies?
Yes, scabies treatment is available. Your health care provider may prescribe a medication such as Nix, Elimite, or Scabene. Less toxic treatments may be prescribed if the infestation is not severe. Be sure to follow the directions that come with the package. You may have to apply the medicine from neck-to-toe more than once
Everyone who may have been in close contact with you should be treated at the same time. That way you can avoid becoming infected again.
All bedding, towels, and clothing that you've used should be thoroughly washed or dry cleaned. All floors should be thoroughly vacuumed in your home, too.
Where Can I Get a Test or Treatment for Scabies?
Staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, health departments, and private health care providers can diagnose scabies and help you get any treatment you may need.
How Is Scabies Spread?
Scabies is very easily spread. Even though it is often spread sexually, you do not need to have sex in order to get scabies.
It is easily spread through
- close personal contact
- contact with bedding and clothing
How Can I Prevent Getting or Spreading Scabies?
Scabies is easily spread, and there is no protection. The only thing that can reduce your risk of getting scabies is limiting the number of people with whom you have intimate or sexual contact.
If you have scabies, do not have sex until you and your partner(s) have completed treatment.
Find Dr. Cullins' Answers to Common Sexual Health Questions
Q&A with Dr. Cullins