Preventing Scabies

Scabies is a very common condition that is non-discriminatory; it can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, race or class. Scabies are tiny mites that once transferred onto the skin, burrow through the layers and cause irritation. Female mites lay their eggs in these burrows and add to the infestation. The eggs will usually hatch three weeks after being laid giving a three week period between becoming infected with scabies and the symptoms being presented.

It is a very contagious complaint and is spread through contact between humans; pets can have mites but of a different type that cannot live for very long on human skin.

Symptoms of Scabies

Scabies usually begins with the development of small red spots or blemishes, usually around the webbing of the fingers and toes or genitals. The spots are extremely itchy causing sufferers to scratch leading to a rash and open sores that are then at risk of developing other infections.

The spots and rash are normally more itchy at night, possibly due to the activity of the mites, or because the person is less active, both physically and mentally and is therefore more acutely aware of the itch.

Those at Risk

Obviously the people who are most at risk are those sharing accommodation with an infected person due to the likelihood of having contact with that person, or from sharing towels, beds, sofas etc.

Elderly people or those living in residential homes are more at risk, as are those with lowered immune systems. Children whom attend school or nursery are also at a higher risk of contracting the complaint.

Prevention of Scabies

The most obvious ways of avoiding the development of scabies is to avoid contact with an infected person, including sexual practices; a condom may be used but is not guaranteed to prevent the spread of the mites to the genitals.

Wash bedding in very hot temperatures if living with an infected person, alternatively dry clean items to help kill existing mites. Maintaining high levels of personal hygiene is paramount in avoiding the spread of the mites. Stringent hand-washing is essential as mites can live under nails or in the fine crevices of the cuticles.

Isolation of pillows, cushions and duvets may be beneficial; wrap tightly in plastic and keep away from other household items (the garage is an ideal place) for at least 10 days. The mites will die after one week if they have nothing to feed on. Do not share items of a personal nature such as hairbrushes, flannels, clothes etc as these items can harbour mites that will thrive on a new environment in which to live.

The infected person may wish to notify their employer of their condition so the employer can decide whether to screen all employees for the mites. This is a very personal and potentially difficult decision to make, as there may be an unprecedented stigma amongst colleagues relating to the condition.

Healthcare workers should always wear protective clothing such as aprons and masks when scabies is a possibility.

Scabies is a highly contagious and irritating condition that can affect anyone. The best way to prevent the spread of the mites is to avoid close contact with those known to have the condition, and to keep personal hygiene standards high at all times.

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