Scabies - Frequently Asked Questions

What is scabies?
Scabies is an infestation of the skin with a tiny mite smaller than a pin head. The mites burrow anywhere in the skin, mostly on the hands, and cannot be seen.

The usual kind of infection is called ‘classical’ scabies. With this type of scabies people get a very itchy skin rash, which is due to an allergy to the scabies mite.

‘Crusted’ scabies is the same infection but with many, many more mites. It is much less common that ‘classical’ scabies. Not all people with ‘crusted’ scabies itch. Scabies is more likely to spread from ‘crusted’ scabies.

Why is scabies important?

  • It may pass on to other people.
  • The itching is usually severe and night time sleep is disturbed.
  • Scabies may not be recognised.
  • Long-term scabies may lead to other infections.

How do you know you have got it?

  • You have a very itchy rash.
  • The itching is worse when you are warm in bed or after a hot bath or shower.
  • You may know someone else who has an itchy rash.
  • Check with your doctor.

How can you catch it?

  • The mites pass easily from person to person when people are in skin-to-skin contact such as holding hands; groups of people living in family homes, residential and nursing homes.
  • Nurses and carers may catch scabies from looking after people with scabies.
  • The itching may occur anytime from 2 to 8 weeks after catching the mites, so mites can pass to someone else before the rash appears.

Can you catch it again?
Yes. If you previously had scabies, the rash may appear from 1-4 days after being reinfected.

How much skin contact do you need to catch scabies?
Scabies is unlikely to be caught by short contact such as shaking hands. Longer contact is needed but could be as little as 5 to 10 minutes.

How do you get rid of them?
You can get rid of scabies by treating with a lotion or cream. You can buy it from a chemist without a prescription, but it is better to see your doctor first to confirm scabies. Household family contacts and everyone who has had skin contact for more than 5-10 minutes with someone with scabies also need treatment. Everyone should be treated at the same time so the mites do not pass back to a treated person. For more information read the Scabies: How is it treated information leaflet

Last updated: November 2017