What is it?
Scabies is caused by an infestation of tiny mites (lice smaller than crabs) that burrow under the skin.
How do you get it?
Scabies is passed on by close skin-to-skin contact, including sexual contact, and contact with towels, bed linen and the underwear of an infected person.
What are the symptoms or signs?
Scabies are tiny and hard to see. The most common symptom is a rash or itching caused by the mite burrowing under the skin to lay eggs. The mites prefer warm areas such as the armpits and groin but are also commonly found in the spaces between the fingers and the toes. Scabies usually gets noticed within four weeks. You may see silvery lines where the mite has burrowed.
You can usually identify scabies by examinatiing yourself.
Can it be treated?
Scabies can be treated with anti-scabies lotions available from the chemist. At the time of treatment wash all your bed linen, towels and clothing in warm, soapy water and dry them well. Partners and anyone in close physical contact should also be treated. It is advisable to repeat the treatment after seven days. The itch can last up to four weeks after successful treatment.
Sometimes people need to take tablets to help get rid of the scabies, too – these need a prescription from your doctor.
Scabies has been an ongoing problem in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It has often taken a community-wide effort—where the whole community tries to get scabies under control at the same time—to reduce the impact of scabies.
How can it be prevented?
It is difficult to prevent catching scabies because it is passed on by close physical contact. To prevent scabies from recurring after an outbreak, wash everything (including bed linen, clothes, towels and underwear) that may have come into contact with the mites in hot soapy water. All contacts, including people you live with, need to have treatment and it is advisable to repeat the treatment after seven to 10 days.