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Scabies is a skin infestation of a very small mite and it can affect people of any age.


Classic scabies causes a lot of itching which is often worse at night. Symptoms usually start 3-6 weeks after your first exposure to the mite but can start sooner (1-3 days) in people who have had scabies before. It usually causes small bumps (papules) on the skin sometimes with serpiginous lines (burrows). The skin rash is often on the hands, feet, and genital area but can be located almost anywhere on the body with exception of the head in adults.


Scabies transmission usually requires significant skin to skin contact (direct and prolonged). It often is shared between members of the same family, sports teams, or sexual partners. Scabies in humans is not the same organism that causes animal scabies and it cannot be transmitted from animals to humans.


Topical permethrin cream or oral ivermectin pills are the most common ways to treat scabies. Both require a prescription from a medical provider and are highly effective. When applying permethrin cream, patients should massage the cream into the skin from the neck all the way to the soles of the feet, including under fingernails and toenails. It is important to cover the whole body (sparing face/scalp) rather than applying to just the area(s)with rash. Often the cream is reapplied again 1-2 weeks later.

Over-the-counter antihistamines can help with itching, which may persist up to 4 weeks after treatment. Examples of nonsedating antihistamines include cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin).Sedating antihistamines include diphenhydramine (Benadryl).


What should I do with my stuff?

Once you start treatment for scabies (cream or pill), wash all the clothes you wore in the last 5 days with hot water and dry them on high heat. It is also important to wash any linens (towels, blankets, bedsheets) in hot water and dry them on high heat. Dry cleaning items is okay too. Any items you cannot wash or dry clean (e.g. pillows, stuffed animals, comforters) should be placed in a sealed plastic bag for at least 3-5 days. Scabies mites usually die without human skin contact after 3-5 days.

Seek medical care if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain, enlarging redness, pus, and/or swelling at rash site(s)
  • Allergic reaction (trouble breathing or swallowing) –This is an emergency! Call for help by dialing 911.


In an emergency, go to Mount Nittany Medical Center or call 911 for an ambulance. Send secure messages to advice nurse via UHS website or call 814-863-4463. Appointments can be made online via the UHS website, by phone 814-863-0774, or in person. If you are unable to keep your appointment, please call or go online to cancel. Otherwise you may be charged. Reviewed 6/8/2020.