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Scabies Mites Are a Medical Condition

By Chris Williams on November 25, 2011.

 

Q. My daughter was just told by a doctor that she has scabies in her skin which is caused by a mite. Can you treat our home for mites? I don’t know where the mites came from but I’m worried that the rest of us might get scabies too .

 

A. We can’t treat your home for scabies mites because scabies is not a pest control problem, it is a medical condition. Scabies mites are not like clover mites or bird mites that wander around on surfaces and can be killed with a pesticide application of the premises. Like head lice, scabies mites are found almost exlusively on people and die fairly quickly when off of people, so treating your home will have no effect.

 

The scabies mite is also called the human itch mite. The very tiny female mite burrows just under the skin (usually on the finger webs, wrists, elbows, nipples, genitals, or buttocks), and lays eggs. The zig-zag burrows beneath the skin are visible to the naked eye. A red rash and severe itching (especially at night) results. If untreated, the itching may go on for a long time and gave rise to the term, “seven-year itch.”

 

Scabies is highly contagious and is spread mostly by direct person-to-person contact, even just holding hands. It is less commonly spread by contact with an infested person’s bedding, clothing, towels, etc. The scabies mite does not jump onto people and it does not survive long in clothing or linens. Scabies is more common in crowded living conditions, and can quckly spread through a family, or among roommates, or among school children. During the Civil War, scabies was so common among soldiers that it was called “camp itch.” Outbreaks also occurred during World Wars I and II, but by the end of the 1950s, scabies was rare. Scabies has made somewhat of a comeback in recent years; no one knows why.

 

Scabies is controlled, not by a pest control treatment, but with an insecticidal lotion prescribed by a physician, along with laundering of bedding and clothing. Treatment is very effective and easy, often eliminating scabies in just 24 hours, although itching can continue for some time. Your family physician or dermatologist should be able to advise you on steps to take to make sure your household is scabies-free.

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