Scabies is a harmless but very itchy and highly contagious skin condition caused by mites that burrow into the skin and lay eggs. Symptoms include a severe itch, often worse at night, and thin burrow tracks made of tiny bumps or blisters on the skin.

Typically, scabies appear in folds of the skin, such as the armpits, around the waist, inside the wrists, between the fingers, on the soles of feet, on the back of knees or on inner elbows. In children, they more commonly appear on the face, scalp, neck, palms and soles. Scabies is spread through direct contact with an infected person or by sharing clothing and linens. It is so contagious that frequently when one person in a family is diagnosed with scabies, all family members are treated for it. It takes about 21 days for eggs to mature and new mites to begin burrowing through the skin.

Generally a visual examination of the skin is all that is needed to diagnose scabies. However, your dermatologist may take a small scraping of the skin to examine under a microscope. The typical treatment is prescription medicated creams applied liberally all over the body. It takes a few days of treatment before the sensation of itchiness begins to go away.

A severe form of scabies exists, called crusted or Norwegian scabies. This affects immunocompromised patients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or patients undergoing chemotherapy. Norwegian scabies is often commonly found among homeless people. They have thousands of mites on the skin and exhibit a thick crusty coating on the skin.

To help prevent further spreading, be sure to clean all clothes and linen in hot water and dry with high heat. Dry clean items you cannot machine wash in this manner or place the item in a sealed plastic bag and put it away for 2 to 3 weeks. The mites will die without a food source for this length of time.