Have you noticed your children scratching their skin a lot, especially at night? Is this itching accompanied by a rash? Well, they may just have scabies, which they can easily pass on to you and the rest of your family. Find out how to recognize the signs of scabies and what you can do to treat these nasty mites.

What is Scabies?
Scabies is a highly contagious infestation of microscopic mites that resemble crabs and are called Sarcoptes scabei. These mites are very common and are found worldwide in all populations. Infestations particularly tend to occur in crowded areas where people have a lot of direct contact with others, such as in hospitals, nursing homes and daycares.

Once a mite has found its way onto your body, it will burrow into your skin and lay eggs. The mites especially like the soft areas of the skin and are therefore most commonly found between fingers and toes; in the skin folds of the wrist, elbows or knees; on the penis, breasts, shoulder blades or in the armpits.

Symptoms of Scabies
The most common sign of scabies is a rash that is marked by small, red lumps. A scabies rash may become dry and scaly. Other scabies symptoms include:

  • Burrows (noticeable by their tiny light-grey or pink lines)
  • Severe itchiness over entire body, especially at night
  • Body sores caused by intense scratching
People who have never been infested may take between four to six weeks before they show any sign of an infestation. If you have previously been infested, though, scabies symptoms may begin to appear within a few days. You cannot become immune to scabies and re-infestation is possible.

Getting Scabies
Scabies is contagious and is spread through direct and prolonged contact, either skin-to-skin or by sharing clothes, towels or beds. It is very easy for your entire household to get infested once one member is infested with the scabies mite. Although an adult female can live for up to a month on a human host (laying one to three eggs daily), the mites cannot survive for more than 48 to 72 hours away from a human host.

Your pets can also get scabies, however they will become infested with a different type of scabies, which is also known as mange. Although this mite can be passed to humans, causing skin irritation as the mite burrows under the skin, these mites do not reproduce on humans and will die within a few days.

Treating Scabies
If your child is found to have scabies, it is important to have your entire family checked out in case they too have been infested. Your doctor may also recommend that all household members be treated whether or not they have scabies.

Conventional scabies treatment usually involves a topical cream that attacks the mite’s nervous system, thereby killing them. In some cases, antibiotics may be necessary to treat a secondary bacterial infection that can occur as the result of over-scratching the sores. Although this remedy is fairly effective, symptoms of scabies can continue on for two to three weeks. If the itchiness is still really bad, your child’s doctor can prescribe something. With proper treatment, no new burrows or rashes should form in the 24 to 48 hour period following treatment.

Additionally, it will be necessary to wash all clothes, bedding and towels your child has come into contact with two days before you began treatment. These should be washed in hot water and dried in a dryer on the hottest setting. An over-the-counter spray is also available.

At-Home Remedies
A diet high in zinc can help protect your child from infestation by boosting his immune system. Some good zinc-rich foods include milk, turkey, soybeans, sesame and sunflower seeds, whole-grain products and fish.

Applying undiluted tea tree oil twice a day can be very useful as an herbal disinfectant. Similarly, balsam of Peru contains antiparasitic properties and is therefore helpful in treating scabies. Apply it alone or dilute it with olive, almond or sesame oil before applying it to infested areas.

Other herbal treatments that may be useful in healing scabies include comfrey root, used as a topical salve, calendula and goldenseal ointment, both of which are available commercially.