What is Scabies?
Scabies is an allergic reaction to a tiny parasitic mite that burrows under the top layer of human skin to lay its eggs. It can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, profession, race or standards of personal hygiene.
Scabies is contagious, being spread from one person to another by skin to skin contact. For this reason it can easily spread between members of the same family, especially those who sleep in the same bed.
As it takes time for the body to react to infection with the mite, no symptoms are experienced for the first few weeks. After this, itching begins, often becoming intolerable at night and keeping the sufferer awake. Usually a characteristic symmetrical rash can be seen around the armpits, round the waist, between the thighs and around the ankles. This rash does not correspond to the site of the mites, which live mostly on hands and wrists, although minor local reactions in these areas may occur in some people. The head is only affected in babies under 12 months old.
Scabies can be diagnosed from other causes of skin irritation by a doctor, but sometimes sufferers do not seek medical help and try to cure themselves with alternative medicines. This may be because they see scabies as a social disgrace. This is not true. Catching scabies does not mean that you are a “dirty” person, it can happen to anyone.
Treatment is a single, very thorough application of a scabicide lotion from the neck down. It is very important that the lotion covers every part of your body, including under your nails and the soles of your feet. (Do not have a hot bath before the lotion is applied as this may make it sink in instead of staying on your skin to kill the mites).
Depending on the type of lotion your doctor advises, it will need to stay on your skin for anything from 8 - 24 hours. During this time, if you wash your hands, remember to reapply the lotion. After the treatment have a warm bath to remove the lotion, put on clean clothes and change the bedclothes. The mites are unlikely to be passed on from clothing but it is more pleasant for you.
Patients found to have scabies on admission will be nursed in a side room until the treatment has been fully undertaken. Staff will wear apron and gloves.
It is usually recommended that you have two applications, one week apart. It is however important that your partner, your family and close friends are treated at the same time to prevent re-infection.
Can I have visitors?
Yes, certainly, but before treatment avoid skin to skin contact with visitors. After treatment there are no risks to your visitors.
Because the itch is an allergic reaction it may take one or two weeks to settle down. This does not mean that you are still infected so do not worry. Avoid the temptation to re-treat yourself, as this could irritate skin which is already sensitive and cause dermatitis. Your doctor may prescribe some cream or tablets to reduce the itching.
If you require further information or advice, please ask the Sister or Senior Nurse in charge of the ward.
Further information can also be obtained from the Infection Control Team on 01932 722128 / 723052.
Additional information can be obtained by logging onto: www.hpa.org.uk.