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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Scabies is an infection from a mite that produces an itch like no other - you (and family members) will be furiously scratching, especially at night. The mite (fancy name: Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis) burrows under your skin, causing very subtle, but characteristic gray "track marks" towards a more defined skin mark.

The skin mark may be a tiny red bump (a papule) or may appear as a fluid-filled blister or a pus-filled bump (a pustule). The mite's favorite hide-outs include the webs between fingers, palms, wrists, forearms, chest and breasts, and genitals.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

Scabies is a highly contagious infestation, and you must seek prompt treatment alongside your nearest and dearest, even if they are showing no symptoms, as it can take up to 8 weeks after exposure to show signs. Itching can carry on for weeks after treatment but should be gradually improving.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

There are topical insecticide products that can treat scabies available by prescription from your doctor.

Elimite dermal cream contains the active ingredient permethrin, an insecticide that treats scabies and crab lice. The cream should be applied over the whole body. Permethrin kills the parasites by poisoning them.

A little goes a long way, and the 30 gram tube usually covers the whole body for most people. Pay particular attention to the crevices between fingers and underarms, and avoid near the eyes, nose, and mouth. Leave on overnight for best results and wash off after 8 to 12 hours. A single application can sometimes be sufficient for successful treatment. However, some experts recommend repeated treatment after 7-14 days for extra precaution. The treatment can be repeated after 7-14 days to kill any scabies mites that have survived or emerged from eggs.

An alternative to Elimite is Eurax, which contains a different insecticide and is also suitable for head lice, crab lice, and scabies mites. Available as a lotion, it is somewhat easier to apply than a cream, especially over hairier areas of skin!

Apply Eurax to the entire skin surface. In adults, it may not be necessary to apply above the neck. Apply again after 24 hours without washing your skin first. Wash off after 48 hours.

It is advisable to wash bed linen at a high temperature, ideally 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above, to prevent re-infestation.

Please note that with both insecticide treatments, those with sensitive skin may experience temporary itching due to the potential irritant nature of the chemical insecticides used. Mild itch persisting after treatment may be a side effect rather than an indication of failed treatment. In such cases, you may find using an antihistamine tablet useful to calm any mild itch or irritation.

Am I fit for work?

You should stay off work until 24 hours after you have completed scabies treatment to avoid infecting others.

When should I see my doctor?

If you think you have scabies, you and your household should start treatment urgently - you should book an urgent appointment with your doctor. Your household may be advised to repeat the treatment a week later.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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