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Scabies are microscopic mites that burrow under the skin and cause severe itching and an unsightly rash. Needless to say, a scabies infestation can prevent you from getting a good night's rest.
They can spread from close, prolonged skin-to-skin contact with another person or contact with infested clothing or bedding. While outbreaks occur most often in nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, child care facilities, and other places where large groups of people gather, scabies can easily make their way into your home.
Dealing with scabies can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be cause for embarrassment—a scabies infestation can happen anywhere and to anyone. And, thankfully, you can manage a scabies outbreak if you act with intention. This process begins with medical treatment and ends with reinfestation prevention.
People often use the term "scabies" to describe the microscopic, parasitic mites that can infect the skin. However, this use of the word is technically incorrect. Scabies refers to the skin condition caused by the mites, not the mites themselves.
The actual name for the "human itch" mite is Sarcoptes scabiei. That being said, using "scabies" as a blanket term to describe the skin condition, an infestation of the parasites, or the mites themselves gets the point across. Plus, it's a whole lot easier to say.
Scabies (Sarcoptes scabiei) mites burrow into the skin to live, breed, and lay eggs.
This skin infestation typically causes a rash of small pimple-like spots accompanied by an intense itch. While the rash can appear anywhere, it usually shows up in between fingers, on wrists, and around the genital area. Severe infestation can lead to Norwegian or "crusted" scabies, a thick crust on the skin that contains a large number of mites.
As with other bug bites and skin infestations, scratching the affected area can lead to a bacterial infection. To avoid further agitation, you should see your doctor as soon as you notice any type of rash on your body.
Skin-to-skin contact with another person experiencing scabies can transfer the infestation. You can also contract scabies if you come into contact with an item (usually fabric) infested with the mites, such as clothes and mattresses. However, the mites can only live for up to 72 hours without human contact.
Scabies aren't the only parasites that like to lurk under the covers. Bed bugs also make their home in the bedding of unsuspecting sleepers. However, there is a key difference between bed bugs and scabies that you should know before planning your course of action.
Bed bugs feed on human and animal blood. When they aren't feeding, they prefer to stay hidden in dark, covered places—like your mattress)—which can make it difficult to spot the bugs before they become a full-blown infestation.
Scabies are difficult to spot for an entirely different reason. While bed bugs are big enough to see with the naked eye, scabies are microscopic.
While you can spot a bed bug, their molted exoskeleton, or their reddish-brown fecal matter, you still may need to rely on the signs and symptoms of the parasite's bites to identify the culprit.
Symptoms of bed bug bites include:
Symptoms of scabies bites, on the other hand, include:
If you suspect a scabies infestation, read on to learn how to stop these microscopic mites in their tracks. To learn more about bed bugs and how to rid your mattress of the pests, click here.
Even if you have a spotless home, you can still experience a scabies infestation. Anyone can get scabies—an infestation is not a reflection of your personal hygiene.
Unfortunately, scabies can easily spread to your mattress, and ridding your bed of mites is one of the most common scabies-related dilemmas.
Given how much time you spend in bed, removing the mites from your mattress is a top priority. However, cleaning your mattress won't be enough to end the infestation—you'll have to treat your skin and clean your home from top to bottom to completely eliminate the mites.
Recovering from a scabies infestation begins with treating the skin condition. To get proper care, you should see your primary care doctor.
A physician can visually identify the rash, or in some cases, may take a sample by scraping underneath the infected area. After diagnosing the rash as scabies, your doctor will likely prescribe a "scabicide" lotion or cream that kills the mites and eases the itch.
Can you treat scabies without consulting a doctor? It isn't recommended. There are currently no approved over-the-counter or natural remedies for treating scabies yourself, so you will need to seek the help of a medical professional.
Once you've begun treatment, you can start tackling the larger task at hand—ridding your home of the mites.
First, you'll have to clean out the clutter and identify individual items that could be infested. Remember, scabies mites can live anywhere: in large stacks of papers, piles of dirty laundry, or in your couch cushions. Check under your bed and other cluttered areas to remove items the mites may currently live within.
Fortunately, hot water without any chemical additives can disinfect scabies.
The mites can only live 48 to 72 hours without human contact, so catching scabies from clothes or linen is rare but definitely possible. For the best chance at preventing scabies reinfestation, you should wash all your bedding, couch covers, clothes, and towels, including those in your closet.
To fully exterminate the mites, you'll need to wash your clothing and linens at a high temperature (130-140 degrees Fahrenheit) and follow up with drying the items on high heat.
Be sure to wear rubber gloves when handling your laundry, before and after washing.
Once you've decluttered and washed your linens, you can move on to disinfecting the surfaces of your home.
First, you'll need to vacuum every floor—even under beds and couches— and all furniture. Afterward, discard the vacuum bag in a sealed garbage bag using gloved hands.
Then, use hot soapy water to clean the other surfaces. If you have a steam cleaner, you can use this to disinfect your furniture, including your mattress. Just make sure to set the temperature to at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hot water is a great disinfectant, but for any items that you can't scrub or throw in the wash, like furniture and electronics, a disinfectant spray will work to kill the mites.
Use a disinfectant spray on your mattress as well as couches, door handles, vacuum and mop handles, remote controls, kitchen cabinet handles, and any other item you touch on a regular basis. Use disinfectant wipes on your electronics like your cell phone, laptop, desktop, keyboard, and mouse.
Marks on the skin typically fade in one to two weeks after treatment. However, in more extreme cases, they can last for months, and itching can last for several weeks. Some people may need more than one round of treatment, but more most people, scabies clears fast once treatment begins.
After treatment, you'll need to stay vigilant against reinfestation. If multiple people within your household have scabies symptoms, seek treatment for everyone at the same time and keep deep-cleaning your home regularly.
While it may seem like a lot of work, you'll have to clean your mattress, bedroom, and the rest of the home on the same day to prevent reinfestation.
As you clean, you should wear gloves and regularly disinfect them to avoid undoing all your hard work by reinfesting your washed clothes, towels, or linens.
Though it does require a lot of grunt work, ridding your mattress—and your home—of scabies is manageable.
As you undergo skin treatment and clean your home, try not to panic or feel ashamed of the infestation. Remember, scabies can happen to anyone, and in no way does it reflect your cleanliness.
Fortunately, the skin condition is easily treatable with medicine prescribed by your doctor, and with a full "spring cleaning" of your home, you can effectively prevent reinfestation.
No, cleaning your mattress more frequently will not reduce the odds of infestation. Scabies can occur in any environment, no matter how often you clean.
However, after infestation, you will need to perform a thorough cleaning in order to prevent reinfestation.
Scabies can live for up to 72 hours on a mattress or surface without human contact. On a person, scabies can live for up to two months or more without treatment.
The mites will die if exposed to a temperature of 50°C (122°F) for 10 minutes.
Scabies spray mattress cleaners and disinfectant sprays will kill scabies on a mattress. Because heat kills the mites, steaming your mattress will work just as well.
In addition to spraying or steaming your mattress, you should wash all your bedding on a hot cycle and either wash your pillows or store them in a plastic bag for at least three days to kill off the mites.
If your pillows are machine washable, run them through your washer with regular laundry detergent on a high heat cycle. The heat of your dryer can also disinfect the pillow, but make sure to check the care label first to make sure it won't cause damage.
For non-washable pillows, you can use a disinfectant spray or "quarantine" them in sealed plastic bags for a minimum of three days. Without a human host, the mites will die out. Just be sure to properly dispose of the plastic bags after use.