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Watch Out For Itchy Skin and Burrows: How to Identify Scabies

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Amable Aguiluz · Updated Jul 26, 2022

Watch Out For Itchy Skin and Burrows: How to Identify Scabies

Human scabies refers to a parasitic infestation caused by Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis, otherwise known as the human itch mite. But how to identify scabies? By watching out for the symptoms. Read on to learn more.

The human itch mite finds its way into a person’s skin by burrowing, with the purpose of laying eggs. This triggers itching and rash symptoms. A scabies infestation may create various complications, especially when bacterial infection occurs. This may lead to more severe conditions, like septicemia, chronic kidney disease, and heart disease. Over recent years, scabies, along with other similar conditions, has been included  in the list of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

Causes of scabies 

Scabies is the term used when a person is infested with the human itch mite. The parasites work by burrowing into the upper layer of the skin, where they live, thrive, and lay eggs. Scabies may spread from one person to another. This may happen during close skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

Although rarer, the parasites may also spread to other people through objects used by the infected person.

Crusted scabies

Some people experience a hyper-infestation of mites. This condition is called crusted scabies. Crusted scabies more often occurs in elderly or immunocompromised individuals. They may have up to 4,000 mites per gram of skin, compared to just 10 or 20 mites for a regular scabies patient.

How to identify scabies: Symptoms

To help in understanding how to identify scabies, symptoms can be observed once the mites have successfully buried into the upper layer of the skin. The mite eggs hatch within three to four days and develop into adult mites within one to two weeks. After four weeks, the infected person develops an allergic reaction to the presence of mite proteins and feces in the scabies burrows, causing and amplifying the itching and rash symptoms.

Patients affected by scabies typically experience the following:

  • Severe itching
  • For adults, linear burrows and vesicles around the fingers, wrists, and limbs might be visible. These look like raised lines on the skin, that may be the color of the skin, or grayish white.
  • Children and infants that have been infected, usually experience a more widespread rash that affects their hands, feet, and at times, the scalp.

Transmission is possible even before symptoms appear.

For patients that have progressed to having crusted scabies, thick and exfoliating crusts that are more visible in areas such as the face.

How to identify scabies: Treatment

It is important to seek consultation with a doctor to confirm the infestation and prevent spreading the mites.

Children with scabies may scratch their rashes. Doing this too much may lead to bacterial infection. Parents may trim their children’s nails to prevent this.

The World Health Organization recommends an application of scabies medication containing:

  • 5% permethrin
  • 0.5% malathion
  • 10–25% benzyl benzoate emulsion or 5–10% sulphur ointment

Due to the fact that people that have been infected and are at the early stage of scabies may be asymptomatic, it is recommended to apply this treatment to all members of the household and any close contacts. Linens and furniture at home should be decontaminated as well.

Key takeaway

In conclusion, scabies is an infestation that should be treated seriously and carefully, especially for infected children and infants. It is caused by sarcoptes scabiei var hominis, or the human itch mite. Treatment involves coordinating with all members of a household since scabies can be transmitted from one person to another through direct or indirect contact.

Learn more about Infectious Skin Diseases here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Martha Juco, MD


Written by Amable Aguiluz · Updated Jul 26, 2022

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