Scabies is caused by tiny parasitic mites. They are smaller than a pinhead and burrow into the skin and lay eggs. A more severe and uncommon form of the condition occurs when there are many mites in the skin. This is called crusted scabies, and can affect elderly and people with certain illnesses, such as HIV infection.

Scabies is common. These infections are easily passed from one person to another through close body contact or sexual contact. Both men and women can get and pass them on, and it is possible for children to get scabies through close body contact.


Some people will not have any visible signs or symptoms at all, or may not be aware of them.

It can take up to six weeks after coming into contact with scabies before signs and symptoms appear. You might notice:

  • Intense itching in the affected areas which may only be noticed at night, or which becomes worse in bed at night or after a hot bath or shower.
  • An itchy red rash or tiny spots. Sometimes the diagnosis can be difficult because the rash can look like other itchy conditions, such as eczema.
  • Inflammation or raw, broken skin in the affected areas – usually caused by scratching.

Scabies mites are very tiny and impossible to see with the naked eye. Fine silvery lines are sometimes visible in the skin where mites have burrowed.

How is scabies passed on

Scabies can be passed from one person to another by close body or sexual contact with someone who has scabies. The mites can live for up to 72 hours off the body, so it is possible for scabies to be spread by clothing, bedding and towels.

Scabies tests

In most cases, our doctor can tell if you have scabies just by looking or they may use a magnifying glass to look at the affected areas.

In some cases, treatment will be suggested if scabies is suspected, even if it cannot be confirmed.

Do I need to have a check-up to see if the scabies has gone?

You may need to go back to check the scabies has gone away and that you have not come into contact with scabies again. If you have any questions, please consult our doctor.

  • Treatment is simple and involves using a special cream or lotion. The doctor will advise you on what treatment to use and how to use it.
  • You apply the cream or lotion usually to the whole body from the neck downwards. This ideally should be done overnight. The treatment should be rinsed off after 12 hours.
  • You should wash clothing, bedding and towels in a washing machine on a very hot cycle (50°C higher) to kill the mites and avoid re-infection.
  • You may want to consider having a sexual health check to make sure you do not have sexually transmitted infection.
  • Close contacts in your household should be treated at the same time, as well as your sexual partner, even if they do not have any signs or symptoms.
  • There is no evidence that complementary therapies can cure scabies.