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Scabies is a medical condition caused by parasitic mites called Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites take up residence in the skin, where they lay their eggs.
Scabies is usually spread through close bodily contact. This can occur through platonic touch, such as cuddling, or more intimate contact. The scabies mites can also live outside the body for 72 hours. This means you can also get scabies from sharing infected clothes, towels, and bedding. While it is not spread only through sexual contact, scabies can be classified as a sexually transmitted infection.
After exposure, it usually takes four to six weeks to develop the symptoms of scabies. People with scabies usually develop red, itchy rashes at the point of contact. Rashes on or around the genitals, hands, breasts, buttocks, and other body parts are common.
The area affected by scabies can become itchier at certain times, like at night or after a hot shower or bath. The rash is often mistaken for other skin conditions, including dermatitis and eczema. The skin may become raw or broken due to scratching. If you look closely, you may notice fine, silvery lines on the skin where the tiny mites have burrowed in. Some people with scabies show no symptoms at all.
In most cases, scabies is a minor irritant that’s easily treated. However, some cases of scabies can be a bit more serious. When many mites infect the skin, they cause a more serious problem called crusted scabies. People with lower immunity, including the elderly and people with HIV, are more likely to develop crusted scabies.
Health professionals diagnose scabies during medical check-ups. In most cases, a visual exam is all that’s required. Some doctors and nurses also examine flakes of your skin for mites underneath a microscope.
A simple lotion, cream, or pills can clear up scabies. Since the mites can live outside the body, wash clothes, bedding, and towels on a hot cycle to kill any mites living there. This measure helps prevent reinfection. You may decide to take these measures if you suspect scabies but don’t have a formal diagnosis. Consider making a doctor's appointment as well to rule out any other conditions with similar symptoms, such as pubic lice.
You should also avoid sexual contact until you’ve completed your course of treatment. Using barrier methods, including condoms and dental dams, reduces your risk of contracting scabies.
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