What is scabies?

Scabies is a condition of the skin caused by human itch mites. The mite usually is spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies. Short contact with an infected person, such as a quick handshake or hug, usually will not spread scabies. Scabies is spread easily to sexual partners and household members. The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching (especially at night) and a small pimple-like skin rash. Scabies can sometimes lead to major skin infections that may cause kidney problems.

Who is at risk?

person scratching rash on arm

Scabies occurs worldwide and affects people of all races and social classes, so all travelers are at risk. Scabies is often seen in developing countries, and outbreaks are common in tropical areas. Scabies can spread rapidly in crowded conditions. Travelers going to nursing homes, extended care facilities, schools, and prisons are at higher risk.

What can travelers do to prevent scabies?

There is no vaccine or medicine that prevents scabies. Travelers can protect themselves by maintaining good personal hygiene and avoiding contact with a person who has scabies.

  • Avoid direct skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies, their clothing, and their bedding.

If you feel sick and think you may have scabies:

  • Talk to your doctor or nurse if you feel seriously ill, especially if you have a fever.
    • Tell them about your travel.
      • They will give you a treatment lotion if you have scabies.
    • For more information about medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad and a list of International Joint Commission-accredited facilities.
    • Everyone who lives with you, even if they are not showing symptoms, should receive treatment for scabies.
    • Clothing and bedding that you used in the 3 days before you were treated should be machine washed in hot water and dried using hot dryer cycles. Items can also be dry-cleaned.
    • Items that cannot be dry-cleaned or laundered should be stored in a closed plastic bag for several days to kill mites

Traveler Information

Clinician Information