Scabies: Who gets and causes

Scabies: Who gets and causes

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Who gets scabies?

Anyone can get scabies. Because skin-to-skin contact is the most common way to get scabies, the following people are especially susceptible:

  • Children.
  • Mothers of young children.
  • Sexually active young adults.
  • Residents of nursing homes, assisted-living residences, and extended-care facilities.

Having a weakened immune system also increases the risk of getting scabies. The elderly and people who have a weak immune system due to disease such as HIV/AIDS, lymphoma, or leukemia have an increased risk. People who received an organ transplant also have a higher risk.

Scabies is very contagious. When one person in a household gets scabies, everyone else in the household is likely to get it.

Crusted scabies is especially contagious. A crust filled with mites can fall off. This shed crust can provide food and protection for the mites, allowing them to live for as long as 1 week without human contact.

Scabies among people in nursing homes and extended-care facilities has become a common problem in the United States. The residents often need help with daily tasks, so there is frequent skin-to-skin contact. Scabies can spread to nursing staff. The staff can then spread scabies to other residents. This can happen quickly.

Scabies can spread when people do not have any signs or symptoms. A person who has never had scabies often does not have any signs or symptoms for 2 to 6 weeks.

What causes scabies?

The human itch mite causes scabies. People get scabies when the mite burrows into the skin. You can get the mite on your skin through:

  • Direct skin-to-skin contact. 
  • Contact with an infested object such as a towel, bedding, or upholstered furniture.

You cannot get scabies from an animal that has mites. Only humans get this type of scabies.

Most people will not get scabies from a handshake or hug. The skin-to-skin contact must be longer for a mite to crawl from one person to another. Adults often get scabies through sexual contact. 

Learn more about scabies:

Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

References:

Czelusta A, Yen-Moore A, Van der Straten M et al. An overview of sexually transmitted diseases. Part III.

Sexually transmitted diseases in HIV-infected patients. J Am Acad Dermatol 2000; 43: 409-32; quiz 33-6.

Habif, Campbell, Chapman, et al. In: Dermatology DDxDeck. 2006. China. Mosby Elsevier. Card #92: Scabies.

Jacobson CC, Abel EA. Parasitic infestations. J Am Acad Dermatol 2007; 56: 1026-43.