What is scabies?
Scabies is a skin condition of the skin in people caused by the human itch mite. The mite burrows into the upper layer of skin to live and lay eggs.
Common scabies symptoms include intense itching and a skin rash. Scabies can occur anywhere on the body but are more common on the following parts of the body:
- Between the fingers
- Shoulder blades
For infants and very young children scabies is often found on the head, face, neck, palms, and soles of the feet.
For people who have never had scabies before, symptoms usually take 4-6 weeks to appear. Symptoms appear more quickly in people who have had scabies previously, in as few as 1 to 4 days. Scabies mites can spread to other parts of the body and from one person to another even before symptoms start.
The same mite that causes scabies also causes crusted scabies. Crusted scabies is severe scabies that happens in people who have weakened immune systems. People with crusted scabies are infested with very large numbers of mites. This increases their risk of transmitting mites to others, either from brief skin-to-skin contact or from contact with items such as bedding, clothing, furniture, rugs, and carpeting.
Who is at risk?
Scabies is found worldwide and can spread rapidly under crowded conditions where close body contact is frequent. Child-care facilities, nursing homes, extended-care facilities, and prisons are often sites of scabies outbreaks. Scabies is more common in long-term travelers than in those who travel for less than 8 weeks at a time.
Animals do not have scabies and cannot pass scabies to people.
What can travelers do to prevent scabies?
There is no vaccine or medicine to prevent scabies. Effective medicine to treat scabies is only available with a doctor's prescription.
Travelers can can prevent scabies by not touching or having close skin-to-skin contact with a person who has a rash or who is itching. Avoid touching or handling a sick person’s clothing or bedding.
Mites that cause scabies die when bedding and clothing are machine washed and dried using the hot water and hot dryer cycles or are dry-cleaned. Items that cannot be dry-cleaned or laundered can be disinfested by storing them in a closed plastic bag for several days to a week. Scabies mites generally do not survive more than 2 to 3 days away from human skin.
If you traveled and feel sick, particularly if you have a fever, talk to a healthcare provider and tell them about your travel. Avoid contact with other people while you are sick.
If you need medical care abroad, see Getting Health Care Abroad.