What is scabies?
Scabies is caused by a type of mites (they look like really small insects) called sarcoptes scabiei. These mites burrow under the skin to lay their eggs, often in the genital area but sometimes elsewhere. Scabies can survive off the body for 24-36 hours.
How common is scabies?
Each year there are over a million cases of scabies reported in the United States.
Where do scabies live?
They can live anywhere under skin. In males and females they usually live on or in the:
- Genital area
Symptoms and Disease
If I have scabies, will I develop symptoms?
Yes, however, if it your first time getting scabies it might take 4-6 weeks to develop symptoms.
What are the symptoms of scabies?
In males and females:
- Severe itching that becomes worse at night
- Mite burrows (where mites move under the skin) in a zig-zag or "S" shape
- Lesions, brown nodules, rashes, or pimple-like irritation
When scabies is sexually transmitted, symptoms usually occur the following parts of the body:
- Folds of the breasts
- Outside of the vagina
- Between fingers
How quickly do the symptoms of scabies develop?
When a person gets scabies for the first time, symptoms may not appear until 2 months after exposure. However, even if you don't have symptoms, you can still spread the mite during this time.
If a person has already had scabies, symptoms may appear 1 to 4 days after exposure.
What can happen if I don't get treated for scabies?
Scabies will not go away without treatment. Intense scratching may cause you to get infected with other bacteria (such as staphylococcus aureus), and/or spread the mites around your body. Since scabies is highly contagious, if you don't treat it right away you will transmit scabies to your sexual partners and anyone you share bedding, towels, and clothing with.
How is scabies spread?
It can be spread through:
- Sexual contact
- Close physical contact
- Sharing infested clothing, bedding, furniture, and other items
The scabies will spread if the mites have a chance to crawl from one person's hair patch to another's (generally from pubic hair to pubic hair).
How can I prevent giving or getting scabies?
The only way to prevent getting scabies is avoid contact with infested people, bed linens, clothing, and furniture. Condoms will not protect against scabies.
If you have scabies, the only way you can avoid giving them to someone is to avoid sexual contact until you get rid of the scabies. To avoid getting scabies again, infested clothing, bedding, and towels should be washed in hot water or stored in a sealed plastic bag for at least 72 hours.
Can I still infect other people with scabies if I don't have symptoms?
Yes, even if you do not show symptoms you can transmit scabies. This is really important for those who are infected for the first time, as you might not know you have it until 2 months after you are get scabies.
Am I more infectious with scabies at certain times?
Scabies are always highly contagious.
Tests, Results, & Treatment
How long do I have to wait to get tested for scabies?
Get tested as soon as you experience symptoms (skin rashes or intense itching in or around genital region) or immediately after learning that a partner has scabies.
How do you test for scabies?
Health care providers usually test for scabies by looking at the skin and any rashes or skin burrows you may have. Tests can be confirmed by looking at the mite, mite eggs, or fecal matter through a microscope.
Where can I get tested for scabies?
A doctor or other healthcare professional may be able to diagnose you with scabies, or you can search for a clinic that can test you. See our Test Page for more information. [should we recommend seeing a dermatologist?]
Is scabies curable?
Yes, getting treated for scabies can completely remove them from your body.
What is the treatment for scabies?
Lotions called "scabicides" (scabies-killers) are used to treat scabies. You can only get scabicides through a prescription. The lotion should be applied to all areas of body after cleaning. Bedding, clothing and towels used by a person with scabies should all be washed in hot water or stored in a sealed plastic bag for at least 72 hours.
Can I use medication I already have to treat scabies?
No. Only medication prescribed to you by a healthcare provider will work to get rid of scabies.
Can I share my scabies medication with my partner?
No. To make sure you have enough to get rid of your own scabies, each infected person should get their own treatment.
Do I need to do anything after I'm cured for scabies?
You should make sure that all bedding, clothing, and towels are cleaned well and the household is thoroughly cleaned. Any sexual partners, roommates, or family members that you are in close contact with should be checked for scabies. A doctor or other healthcare professional should treat skin sores or cuts from scratching.
Should I tell my partner(s) if I have scabies?
Yes, if you feel safe doing so. Scabies is highly contagious and can be asymptomatic (have no symptoms) for up to 6 weeks after exposure. Telling your partners will reduce the risk that you get re-infested with scabies.
Who should I tell if I have scabies?
Below is our take on which of your partners to notify. There aren't great formal guidelines on any of this.
Past Partners: If this is your first time getting scabies it can take up to 6 weeks before you have symptoms. To be safe, you should tell anyone you had sexual contact with in the 10 weeks before you noticed itching or rashes. You should also tell any people you had sex with after you started having symptoms but before you got rid of the scabies. Scabies can also be spread through bedding, so we recommend that you tell anyone that you've shared a bed with even if you didn't have sex.
Current Partners: You should definitely tell anyone you are currently having sex with, and anyone you have (or had) sex with before you got rid of the scabies.
Future Partners: You do not have to tell any future partners once you are cured and your clothing, bedding, and towels are clean and scabie-free.
That's a lot of people to notify. Which of my partners are most at risk for scabies?
If you're not willing to notify everyone who you had sex with within your at-risk period, we'd recommend notifying your current partners and anyone who were with when you had itching or skin rashes, and at least one week before you noticed itching or skin rashes. Take the Partner Notification Quiz to learn more.