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What is scabies?
Scabies is a skin irritation caused by an infestation of tiny parasitic mites that burrow under the skin. The bumpy rash you see is actually an allergic reaction to the eggs and feces the mites leave behind. The name comes from a Latin word meaning "to scratch," and if your child has scabies, he's likely doing lots of that.
Your child can contract scabies through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it. Scabies is extremely contagious, and anyone can get it – even if they're scrupulously clean. It often shows up in more than one family member or in groups of children in daycare or school. There's no particular time of year when scabies is more prevalent.
A severe form of scabies, called crusted or Norwegian scabies, sometimes develops in people with a compromised immune system. In this case, thick crusts of skin containing large numbers of scabies mites and eggs develop. These mites are not stronger than other mites, but there are many more of them.
What are the symptoms?
If your child gets scabies, he'll develop a severely itchy rash of scattered, pimply red bumps, usually between the fingers. In young children, it also typically shows up on the head, neck, shoulders, palms, and soles. In older children and adults, the rash appears on the hands, wrists, genitals, and abdomen.
You may see curvy or razor-thin red lines where the mites have burrowed under the skin. Your child may also develop little pustules (inflamed areas filled with pus, like little pimples) or small, water-filled blisters.
© Dr. P. Marazzi / Science Source
The itching is usually most intense after a hot bath or at night, and it may keep your child awake. Nasty-looking scabs may form over the areas your child has scratched, and a bacterial infection (like impetigo) or a staph infection) could develop.
If this is your child's first bout of scabies, four to six weeks may pass between when the mites latch onto him and when he begins to itch. If he's had scabies before, his reaction time will be much shorter – only one to three days.
Why does scabies itch so much?
Female scabies mites burrow under the skin, where they lay eggs and deposit feces. The eggs and feces trigger an allergic reaction, which causes the nearly intolerable itching.