Characteristics of scabies

Written by lisa sefcik
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Characteristics of scabies
(Human Scabies Infestation (Public Domain, Wiki Commons))

If you suspect that your persistent itch might be due to an infestation of mites, you won't be able to tell simply by looking. Scabies are extremely tiny and can only be viewed through a microscope. However, once you have an infestation on your body, you will likely experience hallmark characteristics of scabies that are very noticeable.

Meet the Mite

If you looked under a microscope at a scabies mite, you'd note that the adult female mite responsible for human infestations is between 0.30 to 0.45 millimetres in length and 0.25 to 0.35 millimetres wide, while male mites are roughly half the size of females. Scabies mites are round and eyeless and have four sets of legs. Male mites can be distinguished from female mites by the discs on their forelegs.

What Scabies Looks Like

The tiny creature that causes you inordinate amounts of itchy discomfort doesn't manifest itself physically until you begin to notice signs of an infestation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this can be between two and six weeks after exposure. Infestation results when at least one impregnated scabies mite wanders from one human to another, so close physical contact is required. You may notice slightly raised, serpentine ridges on your skin that are pink or grey in colour--this is where the female mite lays her eggs, usually around two to three a day. A red, pimply rash erupts around the area of the burrows due to the presence of the mite's proteins, which cause an allergic reaction in your skin.

Where Scabies Love to Live

When it comes to the vast terrain of the human body, scabies mites prefer to set up residence in certain locales. In adults, burrows are usually first noted in parts of the body where skin folds touch, such as in the crooks of the elbows, webbing of the fingers, around the waist and buttocks, around the nipples and genitals, and between the shoulder blades. However, in children, burrows are found around the neck, scalp, foot soles and palms of the hands. According to the CDC, most people only have around 10 to 15 mite burrows, so they may be difficult to find.

Getting Rid of Infestations

Killing scabies mites and their eggs present under your skin requires a visit to the doctor, who will first make sure that you do indeed have scabies. According to the American Social Health Association, the recommended treatment for scabies is usually permethrin cream, which is applied to the entire body from the neck down and washed off after eight to 14 hours. However, even after treatment, the itchy rash can persist for two or even three weeks due to the mites' remains, which continue to cause an allergic response in your skin. Post-treatment itching can be reduced by taking cool baths, applying soothing lotion to the skin or taking an oral over-the-counter antihistamine as recommended by your doctor.

Smart Preventive Measures

One of the more unpleasant characteristics of scabies is that they can survive away from the blood source of a human host for two to three days, making additional measures necessary to prevent reinfestation. ASHA recommends that after treating scabies on the body, wash clothing, linens, towels and other personal belongings in hot water (54.4 degrees Celsius) and dried on hot air for at least 20 minutes. Stow items that can't be washed in airtight containers away from the home for two weeks until the mites starve. Soft surfaces such as carpeting, area rugs and furniture should be vacuumed well and the bag immediately removed from the home.

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