Scabies is a highly contagious condition caused by an infestation of the skin by tiny mites called sarcoptes scabiei.


These mites feed on blood, and they also use their mouths and front legs to burrow into the outer layer of skin (epidermis), where they lay their eggs. After 3-4 days, the larvae hatch and move to the surface of the skin, where they mature into adults. If untreated, this process can repeat for weeks and even months.

While scabies is a highly contagious condition that can easily be passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact, it is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but it is sometimes erroneously conflated with one, which can be upsetting or embarrassing for patients.

Mites can be transmitted from one person to another through infested clothing or bedding, and contrary to what some may think, scabies is not related to overall hygiene.

People who live or work in nurseries, university halls of residence, care homes or nursing homes are more at risk of developing scabies, because of their close proximity to others. Others who travel to densely populated countries, or who share dormitories (like hostels) may also be at increased risk of contracting scabies.

Most UK outbreaks of scabies occur during the winter months, since people tend to spend more time indoors and closer to each other.

While the condition is unpleasant and easily communicable, it may be reassuring to note that it can usually be treated with over the counter products available from the chemists. As a result of treatment being so easily accessed, it is hard to reliably estimate the number of people with scabies in the UK, since not all patients need to visit their GP to treat the distinctive and recognisable condition.

Because scabies is so contagious, and since there is an incubation period that can last up to 8 weeks, it is usually recommended that anyone in contact with a person who has the condition also undergo treatment themselves, in order to reduce the risk of developing it or passing it on.

Scratching the rash caused by scabies can trigger skin infections, like impetigo; and contracting scabies may also worsen existing skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

Symptoms of Scabies

A scabies rash is distinctive, so recognising it will help patients to get treatment more efficiently. When scabies mites lay their eggs, they leave behind silvery looking lines with a dot at one end.

While a rash can appear anywhere on the body, it often starts between the fingers, creeping up between the knuckles in a cluster that appears patchy.

A scabies rash will spread across the whole body, apart from the head, turning into tiny red spots. In older people, young children, or people with a weakened immune system, scabies may also present as a rash on the head and neck.

Scabies mites are drawn to warm places, such as skin folds, and often infest areas between the fingers, under the fingernails, or around the creases of the buttock or breasts. Scabies may also proliferate under watch straps, bracelets or rings.

One of the main symptoms is intense itching, especially at night.

While scabies is extremely contagious, the symptoms can take up to 8 weeks after the initial infection to appear, which is known as an incubation period.

Because of the lengthy incubation period, and the risk of re-transmitting the condition to those who have already been treated, it is recommended that all people who have contact with an individual with a confirmed case of scabies undergo treatment simultaneously – including everyone in their respective households.

In order to eliminate scabies, it is essential to undergo treatment. You can obtain it either by seeing your GP, or by asking the chemist for over-the-counter lotions.

24 hours after the first treatment, it is safe to return to work, and for children to attend school, although depending on the facility, there may be time restrictions issued to ensure everyone has begun scabies treatment.

While over-the-counter treatments will kill the mites quickly, itchiness may not subside for several weeks. Closely monitor the affected areas to ensure no spots have been missed, and try not to scratch lest it cause the skin to become infected.

Additionally, it is essential to take further steps, which include;

  • Washing all bedding and clothing in the house at 50C or higher on the first day of treatment
  • Put clothing or soft toys that cannot be washed into plastic bag and seal it completely until the mites die (no fewer than 3 days); and
  • Prevent babies and young children from sucking treatment lotion off of their hands by putting socks or mittens on them.

Causes of Scabies

Scabies is a skin infestation caused by a tiny mite known as the Sarcoptes scabiei, which, if left untreated, can live on and in the skin for months.

After the mites reproduce on the surface of the skin, they then burrow into it to lay their eggs, causing an itchy, red rash to form.

People can develop the condition after being in close proximity with others who have scabies, or sharing bedding or clothing with people who have it. Some nursery-age children can contract it from playing on carpeting.

Treatment of Scabies at Derma

While your GP and your pharmacist can be very helpful in diagnosing and treating cases of scabies, we are more than happy to see patients who prefer to consult a private dermatology specialist.

Your appointment will begin with a skin check and medical history, which will allow the dermatologist to diagnose any skin conditions that may be co-occurring. Together with the dermatologist, you will be able to discuss the latest and most effective treatments and explain all potential side-effects, enabling you to select the best option for you.

It’s likely that scabies can be treated using topical treatments available from chemists, but prescription creams or tablets may be helpful to reduce itching; or necessary, if the skin has become infected from scratching.

Whatever your needs, you can rest assured that Derma will provide the very best care for your skin, with access to the latest research and treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Scabies is a very itchy and contagious rash caused by a parasite (Sarcoptes scabiei).  The mite burrows into the skin surface.  It can spread in areas of overcrowding and in hospitals, care homes and prisons.  If your immune system is suppressed then you are at increased risk, as well as in you are malnourished or elderly.  As it is contagious, contacts must be identified and treated as well as all the bed linen, towels and clothing. 

The rash and itching should improve within a few days of successful treatment but the symptoms can last for up to month after the last treatment.

Scabies is a contagious rash that is usually spread by skin to skin contact but can also be spread by contact with other objects or items such as clothing, bedding or towels.  It is important to treat all family members and to thoroughly wash all items at a hot wash.

Related Specialists at Derma

The following dermatologists specialise in Scabies

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