Scabies: The Seven-Year-Itch
The phrase “the seven-year itch” was made popular by the classic movie starring Marilyn Monroe. But the real seven-year itch—scabies—is anything but romantic!
Scabies are parasites that feed and breed under human skin. They are uncomfortably itchy, cause unsightly grey lines on the skin, which can be difficult to treat. Scabies mites are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, or by extended contact with the clothing or bedding of an infected person.
What Are Scabies?
Scabies mites burrow under the upper layer of human skin, feeding on blood and laying eggs. People of any class or race can get scabies. They are most common where living conditions are crowded, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Norwegian, or crusted, scabies is a severe form occurring in people with weakened immune systems. Scabies don’t live on animals; they crawl and are unable jump or fly. Scabies cannot live away from a human host for more than three days.
Coming of Age
Scabies eggs are laid under the skin and hatch into larvae after about four days. In another four days, the mites are mature and ready to lay the next generation of eggs. This cycle continues until halted by medical treatment. Scabies can live and breed on your skin for several weeks before your immune system has an allergic reaction and symptoms appear.
What to Look For
Scabies have a round body and eight legs. You might not be able to see the mites without a microscope, but you can see their bite marks and the raised tracks where they lay their eggs.
What Is That Bite?
According to research conducted at Stanford University, scabies bites are similar to rashes caused by dermatitis, syphilis, other parasites (such as fleas), or even poison ivy. The bites look like blisters: pink, raised bumps with a clear top filled with fluid. Sometimes they appear in a row. The strongest indicator of scabies is bites plus the characteristic skin tracks. Scabies attack the entire body, but particularly like the skin around the hands and feet, where the itch can be maddening.
Getting Rid Of Scabies
The nickname “seven-year itch” is well earned—scabies are difficult to eliminate. Treatment, including topical medicine and a strict protocol, must be prescribed by a doctor and followed carefully. Itching will continue for some weeks, even if the first application of medicine works. Be sure to remain on the lookout for new tracks or bites. These signs may be indications that a second treatment is necessary. Anyone exposed to scabies should be treated.
How Bad Is It?
The mere thought of playing host to a family of scabies is frightening in and of itself. It should be noted, however, that scabies mites don’t transmit diseases. That said, extensive scratching can cause secondary infection, including impetigo. In the rare instance where a scabies infestation goes untreated for months or years, Norwegian scabies can develop, but usually only as a result of a weakened immune system.
If you are experiencing itchy blisters and a pattern of tracks on your skin, especially on your hands or feet, you may have scabies. It is important to see a doctor immediately. You’ll also want to ensure anyone you’ve been physically near is treated as well. Don’t wait seven years!
- Georgia scabies manual. (2012, June 1). Georgia Department of Health. Retrieved September 3, 2013, from http://health.state.ga.us/pdfs/epi/zvbd/Georgia%20Scabies%20Handbook%20v2011.pdf
- Scabies - General Information - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). (2010, November 2). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/scabies/gen_info/faqs.html
- Winters, L. (n.d.). Scabies (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis). Stanford University. Retrieved September 2, 2013, from http://www.stanford.edu/group/parasites/ParaSites2009/LeighaWinters_Scabies/LeighaWinters_Scabies.htm