What Is Scabies?
Scabies is a parasitic infestation caused by scabies mites (Scientific name: Sarcoptes Scabiei). Scabies mites are a whitish-brown color, very small (Only 0.2-0.4mm in length) and usually invisible to the naked eye.
Female mites are actually double the size of male mites, but still unlikely to be visible without magnification. Using a low magnification device will allow you to see them, and this is important for making a 100% accurate diagnosis of scabies.
Even without a magnifying device you can still see evidence of scabies mites on the skin. Female mites dig burrows where they excavate beneath the surface of the skin. If you look at the skin of a person with scabies, you will be able to see short grayish-white dotted-lines on various parts of their body. Those grayish-white lines are the burrows, and they are typically about 10mm long.
If you thought that was gross, it gets even worse. The mites burrow by using special cutting anatomy on their front legs. They then they use their mouth to eat skin tissue and tissue fluids, which are excreted due to biting.
It takes them between thirty minutes to one hour to dig through the surface layer of the skin to create a burrow. Inside these burrows is where they eat, live, defecate (ew!), and deposit their eggs. As the female mites dig forward through the skin, they lay about 3 eggs per day.
Symptoms of scabies are caused by the body’s immune system response to the scabies mite, such as intense itching all over the body and pink-red bumps on the skin. This allergic reaction is actually caused by the saliva, skin moults, and feces of the mites coming in contact with skin tissue on the surface of the skin and especially inside the mite burrows.
The Scabies Mite Life-Cycle
There are four stages in the life-cycle of a scabies mite: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. The complete life-cycle to reach adulthood is quite short, in total it only lasts between 9-16 days.
It takes between 3-5 days for an egg to hatch into a scabies larvae. Once scabies larvae hatch they climb to the surface of the skin and find the nearest hair follicle, because that is where they like to feed and moult. After feeding for a period of time the larvae digs a shallow burrow called a moulting pouch, where it will reach the next stage of it’s life-cycle.
Random scabies fact: It takes a longer amount of time for female mites to reach adulthood, 16 days for females compared to 10 days for males.
After the scabies mite completes the transformation into adulthood, it leaves the moulting pouch. Scabies mites are very dedicated to the spreading of their species, and they don’t waste any time. Once mites reach adult form, they immediately search for a mate.
When female mites reach adulthood, they leave the moulting pouch and dig a shallow burrow where they wait for an eager male mate to show up. Scabies mites only live for 1-2 months before they die, so they like to do things quickly and aren’t at all picky about choosing a mate.
A unique characteristic of scabies mites that makes scabies so contagious and easily spread, is that once a female mite is fertilized one time, she will remain fertile for the rest of her life.
After the female is fertilized she leaves her shallow burrow and searches the surface of the host’s skin in order to find a good location to excavate a permanent burrow. Mites usually like to settle around warm spots on the body such as the armpits, groin, and skinfolds.
After burrowing the female mite continues to lengthen her burrow while laying eggs at a rate of 2-3 per day. She will continue to burrow and lay eggs for the rest of her lifetime.
How Is Scabies Transmitted?
Scabies is a highly contagious parasitic infestation that is transmitted primarily through direct physical contact. It is important to note that scabies is not caused by unsanitary practices or lack of proper hygiene. Scabies affects people of every race, ethnicity, social class, and gender. Just because a person gets scabies it doesn’t mean they are dirty or unclean. Cleanliness has nothing to do with getting scabies. The truth is, scabies is just a case of bad luck.
As a side note, when you find out that you have scabies it is important to inform any recent or current sexual partners about it, as they may have contracted scabies as well. It would also be a good idea to limit your physical contact with other people as much as possible, in order to prevent spreading scabies to your loved ones and others.
The risk of transmission of scabies increases when physical contact is prolonged. For example, a common way that people get scabies is from sex, because of the prolonged direct physical contact involved.
Due to it’s highly contagious nature, scabies spreads quickly in professions and locations where people share furniture and objects or have physical contact. Possible places for scabies outbreaks are daycare centers, youth hostels, hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, prisons, etc.
Some examples of high risk activities would be sharing the bed, blanket, clothes, or couch (Fabric, in particular) of someone who has scabies. If you do this, unfortunately you will probably get scabies!
Scabies can be a serious problem for families and people living with roommates. If a member of your family or a roommate has scabies, it is highly likely that the rest of the household will also get scabies, unless that person is quickly treated.
This is such a serious risk that it is recommend that you treat your entire household at the same time. Doing so will prevent the possibility of a scabies re-infestation. Scabies is incredibly contagious and even if a small number of mites survive, someone in the house will likely catch it again, and spread it back around.