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Scabies

What is scabies?

Scabies is caused by tiny insects (called mites) which burrow under the skin and lay eggs.

The mites are smaller than a pinhead and can be found in the genital area, on the hands, between the fingers, on the wrists and elbows, underneath the arms, on the stomach, on the feet and ankles, and around the bum.

If you have genital scabies, we recommend that you have routine tests for all sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV.

How do I get scabies?

Scabies is usually passed from one person to another by sexual contact or skin to skin contact.

However, scabies can live outside the body for 72 hours (3 days and nights) so you can also get them from clothing, bed sheets and towels.

What symptoms would I have with scabies?

It can take up to six weeks after coming into contact with scabies before noticing any symptoms.

Scabies cause an intense itch which is often worse at night or after a warm shower.

You may also have a red, itchy rash or tiny red spots. Sometimes the diagnosis can be difficult because the rash can look like other itchy conditions, such as eczema.

You may have inflamed 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 can I be tested for scabies?

Scabies is diagnosed by a careful clinical examination of the skin. This can be done by your GP or at a sexual health clinic.

Your doctor or nurse may gently take a skin flake from one of the areas and look at it under a microscope to see if there is a mite present.

How is scabies treated?

Scabies is treated with a cream, lotion or shampoo which is left on overnight. You can get the treatment over the counter in your local pharmacy. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will advise you on which treatment to get and how to use it.

Close contacts in your household should also be treated, even if they haven't noticed any symptoms.

The itch may continue for a few weeks after treatment and antihistamine tablets or cream can help.

You should wash all clothing in a 50 degree wash. Anything that cannot be washed (such as duvets, leather jackets and so on) should be put in tied black plastic bags and left for 3 days and nights until the mites die.

What about my partner?

Your partner and anyone else living in your home should be treated at the same time, even if they have no symptoms.

When can I have sex again?

You can have sex again after both you and your partner have completed the full treatment.

Download the Scabies leaflet here.