The Oldest Profession



What is it?

Scabies is a skin infection caused by tiny parasitic mites, which are smaller than a pinhead and burrow into the skin and lay eggs. A more severe and uncommon form of the condition occurs when there are many mites in the skin - this is called crusted scabies, and can affect older people and people with certain illnesses, such as HIV.

How do you get it?

Scabies is easily passed from one person to another through close body contact or by sexual contact. It's possible for children to get scabies through close body contact.

The mites can be found in the genital area, on the hands, between the fingers, on the wrists and elbows, underneath the arms, on the abdomen, on the breasts, around the nipples in women, on the feet and ankles and around the buttocks.

The mites can live for up to 72 hours off the body, so it's possible for scabies to be spread by clothing, bedding and towels.

What are the symptoms?


Some people don't have any visible signs or symptoms, or may not be aware of them. It can take up to six weeks after coming into contact with scabies before any symptoms appear. Signs and symptoms are the same for men and women.

You might notice:

  • Intense itching in the affected areas, which may only be noticed at night, or which becomes worse in bed or after a hot bath or shower
  • An itchy red rash or tiny spots - sometimes this can be confused with other conditions such as eczema
  • Inflammation or raw, broken skin in the affected areas, usually caused by scratching

Scabies are impossible to see with the naked eye. Fine silvery lines are sometimes visible in the skin where the mites have burrowed.

What's the treatment?

In most cases you can tell you have scabies by looking at the affected areas. If you think you have them, get checked - all testing is free on the NHS from your GP, genitourinary medicine clinics and sexual health clinics, or you can ask a pharmacist.

Treatment is simple and involves using special cream or lotion - your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will advise you. Tell them if you think you might be pregnant, are pregnant or if you are breastfeeding as this will affect the type of treatment you're given. Treatment may have to be repeated.

All close contacts in your household should be treated at the same time, as well as any sexual partners. All bedding, clothing and towels should be machine washed on a very hot cycle.

What if the scabies isn't treated?

Scabies won't go away without treatment.

Advice and support

Go to your general practice, a genitourinary medicine clinic, a sexual health clinic or talk to a pharmacist.

You can call fpa’s helpline on 0845 122 8690.

Article originally published by the BBC based on information from the FPA