Scabies is a contagious skin condition caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin.

The main symptom of scabies is intense itching that’s worse at night. It also causes a skin rash on areas where the mites have burrowed. Scabies like warm places, such as skin folds, between the fingers, under fingernails, or around the buttock or breast creases. They can also hide under watch straps, bracelets or rings.

Scabies is usually spread through prolonged periods of skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, or through sexual contact. It’s also possible – but rare – for scabies to be passed on by sharing clothing, towels and bedding with someone who’s infected. It can take up to eight weeks for the symptoms of scabies to appear after the initial infection. This is known as the incubation period.

How common is scabies?

Scabies is common. In the UK, about 1 in 1,000 people develop scabies each month. Scabies is more common in town (urban) areas, in women and children, in the winter, and in the North of the country.

How to treat scabies:

Visit your GP if you think you have scabies. It’s not usually a serious condition, but it does need to be treated. Scabies is curable. The usual scabies treatment is with permethrin cream. Permethrin is an insecticide that kills the mites. This is known to be the treatment that works the best. If permethrin cannot be used, an alternative is to use a lotion called malathion liquid.

Complications of scabies:

Scabies can sometimes lead to a secondary skin infection if your skin becomes irritated and inflamed through excessive itching. Crusted scabies is a rare but more severe form of scabies, where a large number of mites are in the skin. This can develop in older people and those with a lowered immunity.