- Scabies is caused by a tiny bug called Sarcoptes scabiei.
- Scabies causes itchy skin and threadlike tracks on your skin.
- The itching is usually worse at night or after a hot bath or shower.
- Scabies is easily treated with permethrin cream or lotion.
What is scabies?
Scabies is a very itchy skin condition caused by a tiny mite (bug).
Scabies is very contagious and spreads quickly. If you have scabies, your whole family may need to be treated.
What are the symptoms of scabies?
Scabies causes intense itching, threadlike tracks on your skin and sometimes a rash. The rash looks like tiny red lumps and is caused by an allergic reaction to the mite.
The scabies mite prefers to burrow and lay its eggs in skin that is soft and protected. So common areas to get scabies are:
- your wrists
- between your fingers and toes
- in your armpits
- your elbows
- your groin
- the creases of your bottom
The itching is usually worse at night and can cause sleep disturbances. Your symptoms may not develop until 6 weeks after you have been infected with the mites.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
What causes scabies?
Scabies is caused by a tiny mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. The mites burrow under your skin where they lay eggs. You spread the newly hatched mites over your body by scratching.
You can spread scabies to people you have close contact with.
Anyone can get scabies, but it is more common in people aged under 15 years or over 65 years. Scabies is also linked to overcrowded living conditions and poverty.
When should I see my doctor?
See a doctor if you have very itchy skin or you have a rash that doesn’t go away. The itchiness is worse at night and can disturb your sleep.
However, there are many other skin conditions that can cause itchy skin.
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How is scabies diagnosed?
Your doctor will examine your skin. They will also ask you about your symptoms and whether anyone you live with also has itchy skin.
Your doctor may put ink from a pen over a burrow entrance. The ink moves along the burrow confirming scabies.
They may take a small scraping from your skin to confirm the diagnosis.
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How is scabies treated?
Scabies is easily treated with permethrin cream or lotion that you can buy from a pharmacy. It’s important to follow the directions on the bottle carefully. Speak with your pharmacist to make sure you buy the correct lotion.
It works best if you apply the lotion after a shower. Use warm water and gently scrub your skin in the shower. Then pat it dry and apply the lotion to your whole body, except for your head and neck. You may need help to apply it to hard-to-reach areas.
Everyone in your house should be treated at the same time.
Usually, one treatment is enough to kill the mite. If your itching does not clear up in a few weeks, see your doctor. It could be that you are allergic to the mites or have been re-infested.
Can scabies be prevented?
If you have scabies, there are things you can do to prevent spreading it to other people.
You should treat all household contacts over the last month. All sexual partners in the last month should also get treatment.
The day after your first treatment:
- wash all your bedding in water that is 60°C or higher
- wash all your clothes in water that is 60°C or higher
- any clothes or things that can’t be washed should be put in a sealed bag for a week
If you have scabies you should stay at home, until 24 hours after treatment. This is when you are no longer infectious. You can read more about this on Healthdirect’s School exclusion periods page.
Complications of scabies
Scabies is usually treated effectively with no long-term complications.
Some people have an immune reaction to the mites, their eggs or faeces (poo). Your itching might continue for 4 weeks after treatment. If this happens, your doctor may give you some other medicine.
Resources and support
If you are worried that you have scabies, you should see a doctor.
You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: November 2023