Scabies, also known as the human itch mite, can affect anyone. While scabies is typically found in crowded conditions, such as prisons and nursing homes, most adults contract scabies through sexual contact. Here's what you need to know about scabies treatment and prevention.
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A scabies infestation occurs when you have prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with someone who already has scabies. It also can be transmitted by sharing bedding, towels, clothing and other personal effects. All it takes is one impregnated female scabies mite to cause an infestation in your own body. The mite burrows into an area of the skin, where it lives out its life and lays eggs, further perpetuating the infestation. Symptoms are usually noted around 2 months after an actual infestation. During this time, scabies can be passed onto others unknowingly.
When diagnosing scabies, a physician will often look for the characteristic serpentine burrow caused by the female scabies mite. These are typically found in areas where two areas of your skin touch, such as the webbing between your fingers, under your armpits, inside your inner elbow, around the waist or buttocks, on the inside of your wrists, under the breasts, in between the shoulder blades and around the male genital region. Sometimes a skin scraping will be taken and looked at under a microscope.
Treating scabies requires the assistance of your doctor, who will prescribe a topical lotion or cream, such as permethrin or crotamiton, to kill the mites and their eggs. These topical lotions are applied all over the body and left on for 8 hours, then washed off. Even after treatment, itching can persist for weeks.
To alleviate residual itching after treatment, there are several home remedies that work quite effectively. The Mayo Clinic recommends soaking in cool water or applying a cool, damp washcloth to affected areas of the skin. Calamine lotion, which can be purchased at most chemists, also can reduce itching and irritation. Your doctor might also suggest you take over-the-counter antihistamines.
Even after you are treated for scabies, your home environment will need to be treated to prevent scabies from spreading to others--and to protect you from another infestation. Clothing, bedding and towels should be washed in hot, soapy water and dried on high heat. Personal items that cannot be washed can be stored in a plastic bag or container and stored somewhere out of the home, such as a garage or storage unit, for 2 weeks. If you contracted scabies through sexual contact, inform all subsequent sexual partners so that they too can receive treatment.
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