Scabies is a skin infestation that can be passed easily between people. It is caused by tiny mites which are like extremely small insects. The scabies mite (also known as Sarcoptes scabei) is a small eight-legged parasite about one third of a millimetre long. The mites burrow into the upper layers of the skin and lay eggs along the way. Small blisters, red spots and itchy red patches form on the skin above the burrows. Scabies mites prefer thin hairless skin, and for this reason concentrate in sensitive areas such as between the fingers, on the wrist, on the elbow, on the bottom and genitals, and around the waist.

The mites are very sensitive and can only live off the human body for 24 – 36 hours and do not survive in furniture or carpets.


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Rash. The scabies rash usually appears as small areas of red, itchy bumps and blisters most often noticed:

  • Between the fingers
  • On the wrist
  • On the elbow
  • Around the waist
  • On the bottom and private parts.

Itch. The scabies rash is usually intensely itchy.  The itch is typically more severe at night, sometimes making it difficult to sleep.

If you think that you may have been infected with scabies, see your doctor or pharmacist for advice on treatment.

Treating scabies

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Scabies will not go away by itself, and needs to be treated.  Because it is easily spread and it may take a few weeks for symptoms to become obvious, it is important that everyone in the household is treated at the same time whether or not they currently have the symptoms.

Your pharmacist or doctor can give you advice on treatment of scabies. Scabies is usually treated with a cream or lotion that can be bought from the pharmacist or prescribed by your doctor. Your pharmacist or doctor can advise you on which scabies treatment is best for you, how to apply it, and how much you will need to treat all the people in your house.

It is best to use the cream or lotion just before going to bed in the evening.

  • First have a bath or shower then cover the whole body with the cream or lotion, from the jaw down to the soles of the feet, especially in between fingers, toes, under the nails and on the genitals
  • The cream or lotion must be left on overnight
  • If you wash your hands within this time it is important to put the cream or lotion back on your hands
  • The next morning have a bath or shower and put on clean clothes. 

Some creams need to be reapplied after seven days. The itchiness will not go away as soon as the treatment is done, it may in fact take a few weeks for the itching to stop.

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe a medicine taken by mouth to treat scabies rather than a cream or lotion.

Stopping scabies spreading and recurring

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To stop scabies from spreading or recurring:

  • All people living in the household, and other close contacts, should be treated at the same time whether or not they have symptoms of scabies.
  • On the same day as applying the treatment, all clothes worn against the skin in the last 3 days must be washed in hot water and dried.
  • Sheets, pillowcases, towels and face-cloths should also be washed in hot water.  It is not necessary to wash blankets, duvets or quilts, you can just hang them out in the sun for a day.