What Is Scabies?

What Is Scabies?

Ever stayed in a cheap hotel, B&B or hostel and walked away covered in red itchy spots? You could have scabies.

Scabies is a nasty itchy rash  which covers the whole body caused by the parasitic mite Sarcoptes scabiei. It’s no new infestation either. Scabies has been around for over 2,500 years, and can be traced as far back as the Roman times. In fact, the word scabies comes from the Latin word ‘scabere’, meaning ‘to scratch’. Giovanni Cosimo Bonomo, an Italian physician identified the  Sarcoptes Scabiei mite back in the 17th century.

Scabies is a huge public health issue globally, causing morbidity and even mortality in developing and third world countries. But why?

After the male and female mites mate on the surface of your skin, the male dies and the female tunnels down into the epidermis where she lays her eggs. Gross or what.  The eggs mature in 10-15 days and then these adults go back up the surface of the skin to mate and do it all over again. They live from 4-6 weeks and they each mite has around 10-12 mite babies.  This can be a lot more in those with weak immune systems. All it takes is around 10-15 minutes or the mites to be in contact with your skin to pass over. But despite what many people believe, these pesky itchers do not fly or jump.

So where are you likely to contract Scabies? Crowded, poor living conditions such as those found in child care facilities, group homes, prisons and refugee camps such as those in Calais, Dunkirk and Greece. Why? Because these cramped areas, they lack sanitation and water. 

Scabies is one of the three most common skin disorders in children, along with ringworm and bacterial skin infections. As of 2010 it affects approximately 100 million people (1.5% of the world population) and is equally common in both sexes. The young and the old are more commonly affected. It also occurs more commonly in the developing world and tropical climates.


Scabies is curable for those in developed countries who are able to get to a GP or chemist for treatment with permethrin cream. Permethrin is the best insecticide known to kill the mites, along with malathion liquid.

Daily hot baths and scrubbing with soap and water will NOT cure a scabies infestation. Insecticide MUST be used. Boiling all clothes and staying away from people who are infected is imperative too. But again, this is hard in a refugee camp or poor area. For them, there is literally no escape aside from governments ensuring living environments are clean and uncramped.

photo credit: Wikipedia/WebMD/ NHS

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