What is Scabies; Causes, Treatment

Most persons wonder what scabies is. Have you ever seen anyone who is always scratching, or have you noticed that you always feel itchy, especially around the area between your fingers, at your armpit, groins?. That is a possible infestation from scabies.

Table of Content

What causes Scabies?

This is an infection or infestation caused by a mite known as Sarcoptes scabiei. This insect lives and moves in the skin producing some form of swelling (that can be S-shaped) or rashes.

There is another type known as the norwegian (crusted) scabies, where the lesions are extremely large and extensive. Thick, grey keratoses and crusts develop on the hands, elbows, knees and ankle joints and also extend to areas not normally affected by scabies such as the face and scalp, and nail beds.

This type is seen in severely immunocompromised patients such as in AIDS, or Diabetic patients.

What are the Symptoms of Scabies

The symptoms of this infection consists of the swelling as well as very itchy rashes. The Itching is especially worse at night, and causes scratch marks. Some persons can also develop pustules dues to infection.

These rashes are commonly seen in the areas between the fingers, on the sides of the hands and feet, in the armpits and on the genitals and buttocks.
In small children, you might notice the rashes around the head and neck as well as their palms & soles.

Scabies on the Wrist of a child. Image Credits: Panorama Dermatology Clinic

How is Scabies Transmitted

Transmission is mainly through close personal contact. It is also transmitted through clothing materials, sharing of towels, etc. This is why this disease is commonly seen in the hostels, prisons, barracks, IDP camps, & in such crowded settlements.

Treatment of scabies

The most important step is to go see a doctor. He/she would recommend the best treatment option for you.
However, whichever treatment is chosen, it is essential to treat all close contacts of the patient, e.g. people sharing the same household.

Also, all clothing materials should be washed or aired for at least 24 hours at the time of treatment.

Treatment Options

  • Gamma benzene hexachloride (GBH) 1% lotion or cream. Apply from the neck down. Then allow to dry and wash off after 24 hours. Give 10 ml for adults and 5 ml for children over 12 years. Do not use in pregnancy, breastfeeding mothers or babies < 6 months.
  • Treat children with benzyl benzoate 25% emulsion diluted with one part water (1:1). Dilute with 3 parts water (1:3) for infants. Apply for 3 nights, wash off each morning.
  • Sulphur 5-20% ointment twice daily for 1-2 weeks.
  • Epidemics in institutions (prison, army camp, boarding school) may be treated with ivermectin.
  • Post-scabies itch often occurs. This can be mistaken for inadequately treated scabies. Treat with topical steroids.

Once again, do not self-medicate. Your doctor would decide the best option for you!


  • Obasi Chinedu David attended the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, in ituku-ozalla, Enugu state, Nigeria.

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