The contagious skin disease known as scabies can be traced to the insidious action of the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. The primary symptom-incredibly itchy, red lesions-results when the female mite burrows into the skin and deposits eggs and feces. Long considered a problem only of the unclean and poor, scabies is actually quite common at all socioeconomic levels. Closed environments such as nursing homes and childcare centers provide ideal breeding grounds for the parasite, which needs a human host to survive. An estimated 300 million new cases spring up each year worldwide. The number of cases in the United States is currently on the rise, probably because more children under the age of five are being cared for in centers.


Scabies mites can survive for only two to three days without a human host, but if they do infest you, it can be very difficult to get rid of them. Transmission almost always occurs through direct person-to-person contact. The telltale red, itchy, pencil-thin lesions usually appear two to three weeks after infestation; the sores are caused by the body's allergic reaction to the mites and their feces.

Since the distinguishing burrow lines show in only about 25 percent of patients, you may have to rely on other signals to determine whether you have been infested.

If you find yourself overcome with an overwhelming need to scratch particular areas of your body, especially at night, check with your doctor. People with flaking skin disorders, such as eczema and psoriasis, need to be especially vigilant.

Because they already lend to have itchy, red skin, they may not notice symptoms until the infestation is widespread.

Contrary to common assumptions, it is highly unlikely that you would contract scabies from your pet; indeed, human skin will not sustain the type of mite often found on dogs, and the pimplelike rash you might get from a canine mite not only is less itchy but may actually clear up on its own.


To get rid of scabies, those people who are infected and everyone they came in contact with must be treated al the same time.

Since the mites can survive for two or three days on almost any surface, including tables and countertops, toys, and linens, all areas must be thoroughly vacuumed and washed.

Items that may be difficult to clean, such as stuffed animals, should be bagged and stored for a week.

There has been some controversy about the dangerous side effects of some pediculicides, which kill mites and lice. Several alternatives exist, including herbal remedies, for those who want a more benign (though also potentially less effective) solution.

Conventional Medicine

A bath with soap and hot water will wash away some of the mites and their debris, but this step alone will not get rid of all the parasites.

Most doctors prescribe a pediculicide, which you apply to your skin from the neck down. You may need some assistance with this treatment since you must be certain to cover all areas.

Leave the lotion on the skin for 8 to 12 hours and then wash it off. Do not reapply the lotion without your physician's approval.

Gamma benzene hexachloride was at one time the most commonly prescribed pediculicide, but if used improperly, it can attack and permanently damage the central nervous system.

Multiple applications, especially in young children, have led to brain damage, paralysis, and seizures. In 1990 the FDA approved the use of permethrin, a cream that works well against scabies without the potent side effects. Permethrin has quickly become the treatment of choice of most dermatologists.

After you rid your skin of miles, you can take an antihistamine for the itch (which can still rage for days after treatment because of feces left in the burrows) and apply corticosteroid creams to reduce inflammation.

Alternative Choices

Like their conventional counterparts, many alter-native remedies for eradicating scabies mites are potent and even toxic if taken internally, but many herbs do offer safe relief from itching and inflammation.

If mites return after you try an herbal parasiticide, you may want to use the more conventional preparations. The longer the parasites live in your skin, the greater your risk of infection.

Herbal Therapies

Larkspur (Consolida regalis), the most effective herbal parasiticide, is poisonous if taken internally. Consult an herbalist for treatment.


For relief of itching, try taking Sulphur (6x) every eight hours for up to three days.

At-Home Remedies

To relieve itching, add a cup of oatmeal or cornstarch or a pinch of chickweed to your bath; soak in hot water and scrub with soap, but avoid over scrubbing, which can lead to a skin condition called eczematous scabies.

Rubbing lavender (Lavandula officinalis) oil into your sores can also help relieve itching.


The best way to prevent getting scabies is to avoid contact with the mite. For some people, especially those who work in hospitals, day-care centers, and other crowded conditions, that may be difficult. If you contract the parasite, take basic steps to avoid reinfection and infecting others:

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