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WHAT IS SCABIES?
Scabies is a skin infestation with a tiny mite, Sarcoptes scabiei. Scabies has become relatively common throughout the general population. It is highly contagious and is spread primarily through sexual contact, although it also is commonly transmitted by contact with skin, infested sheets, towels, or even furniture.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Scabies causes intense itching, which often becomes worse at night. Small red bumps or lines appear on the body at sites where the female scabies mite has burrowed into the skin to lay her eggs. The areas most commonly affected include the hands (especially between the fingers), wrists, elbows, lower abdomen, and genitals. The skin reaction may not develop until a month or more after infestation. During this time, a person may pass the disease unknowingly to a sex partner or to another person with whom he or she has close contact.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
As with pubic lice, lindane is an effective treatment for scabies. Pregnant women should consult a doctor before using this product. Nonprescription remedies such as sulfur ointment also are available. Sulfur is fairly effective but may be objectionable because of its odor and messiness. Itching can persist even afte the infestation has been eliminated because of lingering skin irritation. A hydrocortisone cream or ointment or a soothing lotion may provide relief from itching.
HOW IS IT PREVENTED?
Family members and sex partners of a person with scabies are advised to undergo treatment. Twenty-four hours after drug therapy, a person with scabies infestation is no longer contagious to others, even though the skin irritation may persist for some time. As with pubic lice, special care must be taken to rid clothing and bedding of any mites.