Scabies is a contagious skin condition caused by tiny mites called Sarcoptes Scabiei. Using their mouth and front legs, these mites burrow into the skin’s outer layer (epidermis), where they lay their eggs. These eggs hatch within three to four days producing larvae mites, which return to the skin’s surface to mature and repeat the life cycle. This cycle can continue indefinitely unless the correct treatment is sought. Scabies mites are incapable of jumping or flying, the only way they are spread is through direct, prolonged physical contact with an infected person or object. For example:
- Having sex with someone infected with scabies
- Holding hands with an infected individual for prolonged periods of time
- Sharing clothes, towels or bedding with an infected person
If infected by the scabies mite you will experience severe itching and a skin rash on the areas where the mites have burrowed. The itching tends to worsen at night, potentially hindering sleep. The scabies mites thrive in warm conditions, which is why they will often inhabit the warmer areas of the body, such as skin folds, between fingers or toes, around the buttocks and breast creases. In the UK scabies tends to be more common during the winter months. This is attributed to people spending larger amounts of time indoors, hence being in closer quarters with others for longer. It’s difficult to gauge exactly how many cases of scabies affect the UK each year as most people don’t visit their GP, opting instead to self-treat using over-the-counter medicines.