How Can Scabies be Transmitted?

Scabies is a very unpleasant skin condition that is unfortunately, highly contagious.  You don’t even have to show symptoms in order to pass it on to others around you.  It is caused by scabies mites burrowing into your skin, leaving waste and eggs as they go.  As the eggs hatch, more mites are created, causing the itchy red areas to spread rapidly.  Scabies is transmitted, very simply, when the mites move from one person to another.  Since they can live for up to 36 hours without a human host, there is risk of contracting it without even coming into direct contact with another person.

Common Methods of Transmission

Scabies mites are most commonly spread from one person to another through skin-to-skin contact.  The mites cannot jump or fly, and move very slowly, so they have their best chance of moving to another host among people who share a bed, or who have other close physical contact.  So, it’s very common for husbands and wives to transmit to each other, or parents to children, especially when the children are young enough to still be frequently held or carried.

Another common way scabies is spread is through shared towels, bed linens and clothes. They can live in a variety of environments for at least a day, so even upholstery is a good place for the mites to live until they find another host.  One of the hardest parts of treating scabies effectively is making sure that every single item that could assist in transmission is cleaned.

Having rough or wrinkled areas of skin means it’s easier for scabies mites to burrow under it in those areas.  The knees, knuckles and elbows are all prime areas for scabies mites to get a foothold.  Scratching affected areas often also means that the mites will be spread over the area you are scratching more easily and rapidly.

Once a mite has burrowed under the skin, the females start laying eggs and usually manage to lay 10 to 25 before dying.  Larvae are hatched from the eggs about 2 to 3 days later, and move to the skin’s surface, where they grow into adulthood in about 14 days. The young mites then continue the cycle of laying eggs and hatching, and this continues until treatment kills them and destroys the eggs.  It is during the adult phase that the mites are most likely to move from one host to another.

What Increases Risk

Scabies is easily transmitted, but there are certain groups that are more likely than others to contract it. If you belong to any of the following groups, you should take extra care and pay attention to any possibly symptoms, being aware that you are more vulnerable to contracting it.

One group that contracts scabies more readily than the general population are those with compromised immune systems.  Those who suffer from HIV or other auto immune disorders are much more likely to react badly from the work of the scabies mites.  An allergic reaction is more likely to develop in the first place, and when it does, it will be much more severe.  Severe cases, like Norwegian scabies, are also much more likely to occur in this group, as are secondary skin infections.

Anyone who has difficulty communicating is at risk for more severe cases of scabies.  Infants, the very elderly, and the disabled are likely to have the symptoms get much worse than they otherwise might in someone who is able to verbally complain about them.

Young people who are sexually active are also at a higher risk.  This is not because scabies is transmitted specifically through sexual activity, but because these people tend to be in close, skin-to-skin contact with others, which is the easiest way for scabies to spread.

Misconceptions about Scabies Transmission

There are two major misconceptions about the way scabies is transmitted.  One is that it is a sexually transmitted disease.  This is partly because, as noted above, the sexually active are a vulnerable group, and also because symptoms often appear in the genital area on males.  However, since those who are sexually active are more likely to be in close physical contact with others, they are at a higher risk for scabies.

Another misconception is that humans can get scabies from animals.  While there are animals that get scabies- dogs for instance- the mites do not cause scabies in humans.  The mites can be transmitted to people from their pets, and cause some itching and irritation, but they will not survive or reproduce on human skin.

Knowing how scabies is transmitted can help you know what you need to do to prevent it.  If you know you are part of an at-risk population, you can be especially cautious in avoiding situations where you might contract it, and you will know that you need to act on the symptoms as soon as you can identify them.

Scabies is highly contagious and is most easily transmitted through physical contact. Some groups of people are at higher risk due to circumstances and behavior.

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