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Scabies

Scabies is common and anyone can get it. It should be treated quickly to stop it spreading.

Check if it's scabies

The symptoms of scabies are:

  • intense itching, especially at night
  • a raised rash or spots

The spots may look red. They are more difficult to see on dark skin, but you should be able to feel them.

A white hand with tiny bumps lines with a dot at one end.
Tiny mites lay eggs in the skin, leaving lines with a dot at one end.
A white hand with red rash in between the fingers and across the back  of the hand.
The rash can appear anywhere, but it often starts between the fingers.
Red spots on the skin caused by scabies.
The rash may then spread and turn into tiny spots. This may look red on lighter skin.
Dark spots on brown hand caused by scabies.
The rash may leave dark spots on the skin. This may look brown or black on darker skin.

The scabies rash usually spreads across the whole body, apart from the head.

However, older people, young children and those with a weakened immune system may develop a rash on their head and neck.

When it's not scabies

Many other things can cause itchy skin and rashes in babies and children.

A pharmacist can help with scabies

Scabies is not usually a serious condition, but it does need to be treated.

A pharmacist will recommend a cream or lotion that you apply over your whole body. It's important to read the instructions carefully.

Let the pharmacist know if you are breastfeeding or pregnant.

You'll need to repeat the treatment 1 week later.

Scabies is very infectious, but it can take up to 8 weeks for the rash to appear.

Everyone in your home needs to be treated at the same time, even if they do not have symptoms.

Anyone you have had sexual contact with in the past 8 weeks should also be treated.

Things you can do during treatment to stop scabies spreading

Do

  • wash all bedding and clothing in the house at 50C or higher on the first day of treatment

  • put clothing that cannot be washed in a sealed bag for 3 days until the mites die

  • stop babies and children sucking treatment from their hands by putting socks or mittens on them

Don’t

  • do not have sex or close physical contact until you have completed the full course of treatment

  • do not share bedding, clothing or towels with someone with scabies

How long it takes to get rid of scabies

You or your child can go back to work or school 24 hours after the first treatment.

Although the treatment kills the scabies mites quickly, the itching can carry on for a few weeks.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • your skin is still itching 4 weeks after treatment has finished
Information:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19

Scabies can spread easily

Scabies are passed from person to person by skin-to-skin contact. You cannot get scabies from pets.

People who live or work closely together in nurseries, university halls of residence or nursing homes are more at risk.

Scabies and hygiene

Anyone can get scabies. It has nothing to do with poor hygiene.

Complications of scabies

Scratching the rash can cause skin infections like impetigo.

Scabies can make conditions like eczema or psoriasis worse.

Page last reviewed: 17 November 2020
Next review due: 17 November 2023