Scabies on a patient's wrist
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Sexually Transmitted Diseases
|What Is Scabies?
Scabies is a highly contagious parasite infection of the skin. It occurs when mites called Sarcoptes scabiei burrow under the skin and deposit their eggs and feces. The result is agonizing itching particularly at night and after exercising. Scratching can lead to broken areas of skin which exposes the person to infestation by other microorganisms. Infestations are particularly common on the wrists, between the fingers, armpits, breasts, soles of the feet, labia (visible part of the vulva) and buttocks. When scabies is transmitted through sexual contact it is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). It can be a very annoying condition which, if untreated, can last for years. Scabies should not be confused with pubic lice (crabs), which is another common STD.
Scabies: The Parasite
The mite Sarcoptes scabiei are 8-legged parasites about 1/3 of a millimeter long. They can only be seen with a microscope or magnifying glass. They are unable to fly or jump, they can only crawl. Mites are immobile below 20 C temperatures but can survive and reproduce for prolonged periods at the right temperature. Scabies infestations have been reported by humans for over 2,500 years and 300 million cases still occur worldwide every year.
Scabies are transferred by skin to skin contact. Sexual contact is one of the most common ways to catch an infection. It is nearly impossible however to get infected by shaking hands, or through bed linen and towels (but cases have been documented). From time to time epidemics are reported in nursing homes and hospitals. You cannot catch scabies from animals. The type of parasite that infects cats and dogs are different - if they land on human skin they can produce a mild itch but die quickly and do not spread.
The first time you are infected it may take a month before symptoms appear. Later infestations appear more quickly, sometimes within 24 hours. Signs include:
The symptoms of scabies are similar to many other skin complaints, including hives, eczema, mosquito bites, poison ivy and allergic reactions. Your doctor will be able to differentiate between these conditions by taking a scraping of a burrow or blister and examining it under a microscope. If mites or their eggs are present a diagnosis will be made. If a person shows all the characteristic signs of infection, a scraping may not be necessary before treatment is recommended.
Topical Creams And Lotions
Prognosis - Outcome
It can take a few days after treatment for itching to subside; it is not an instant cure. It may take a week or two before all itching disappears.
Following STD prevention advice can help prevent the spread of scabies. In addition, as scabies can occasionally spread through objects, where possible avoid sharing towels with other people and cover public toilet seats with tissue paper. If you have been infected with scabies, you should contact your doctor or STD clinic for STD testing - you have exposed to other nasty conditions without realizing it.
It is a severe form of scabies first described by Norwegian doctors. It nearly always affects elderly people whose immune system is compromised as well as those who are physically disabled or in patients with AIDS/HIV or lymphoma. Due to the body's poor response to fighting infection, the person becomes infected with thousands of mites. Lesions spread all over the body and the scaly areas eventually take on a crusted, wart-like appearance. Interestingly, the person is likely to have little or no itching.
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For more advice on sexual health, see the following:
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WOMENS HEALTH ADVICE: ABOUT SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES