Scabies✓ is an itchy skin condition caused by an infestation of tiny mites burrowing and laying eggs under the outer layers of human skin. This infestation leads to itching and a rash. Scabies infestations can be difficult to diagnose, and it may take 4 to 6 weeks for sensitization to develop and the skin to react.
Symptoms of scabies include:
- Intense itching, especially at night
- A pimple-like rash
- Scales or blisters
- Sores caused by scratching
Did you know?
Scabies is also known as the "7-year itch" or "army itch"✓.
Scabies mites can live anywhere on the body, but some of their favourite spots include:
- Between the fingers
- In the folds of the wrist, elbow or knee
- Around the waistline and navel
- On the breasts or genitals
- Shoulder blades
- On the head, neck, face, palms and soles in infants and very young children (usually not adults and older children)
Good to know!
Scabies may be mistaken for mosquito bites or acne in its early stages. However, what sets scabies apart is the relentless itching - which is usually worse at night and more severe in children and the elderly✓.
Why would the itching be worse at night, you may wonder? There are several explanations, many suggesting it's because the body is warmer at night. However, what has been shown✓ is that sweating and hot water increase the severity of the itch in scabies patients - more so in this group than in the other four skin conditions (non-atopic eczema, atopic dermatitis, urticaria, and psoriasis) tested in the study.
Did you know?
It is estimated that scabies affects more than 200 million people✓ globally at any time.
The tiny burrowing mite that causes scabies is a parasitic mite named Sarcoptes scabiei✓. Soon after mating, the females burrow into the outer layer of the skin and start excavating a tunnel. She lays her eggs in this tunnel - 2 to 3 eggs per day (each female lays 10-25 eggs), eating the skin and tissue fluids from her excavations as she goes along.
After 48 hours, the eggs will hatch, follow through with larval and nymphal stages, and finally, moulted adult mites will construct new burrows and mate. After fertilisation, the female mites wander on the skin to look for a new burrowing site (on the current host or somebody new). And the cycle continues. The entire lifecycle of the mite occurs over 10-17 days.
How You Can Get Scabies
Typically scabies spreads through skin to skin contact - the mite can't jump or fly and needs time to crawl from one person to another or through objects that carry the mites, such as clothing and bedding. It is, therefore, most common in children, and crowded populations like jails, refugee camps and nursing homes, although anyone can get it. In addition, scabies can be passed easily between family members or sexual partners.
Scabies mites cannot survive outside the human skin for more than 2-3 days✓.
Scabies On Mattresses
As scabies can spread through contaminated objects, mattresses are intermediaries. And, because scabies mites aren't visible to the naked eye, it can be very difficult to know if they're on your mattress. However, as mentioned above, scabies mites can live for 2-3 days without their human host, so this is how long they can live on your mattress.
To free yourself and your mattress from scabies mites, you will need to treat both effectively and eliminate the possibility of re-infestation.
There are various treatments available for scabies. These include topical permethrin, topical crotamiton, and systemic ivermectin - all of which have been shown✓ to be comparably effective. If you receive a scabies diagnosis, it will most likely be recommended to treat the entire family.
Calamine lotion and antihistamines are also often recommended; however, these are to be used to treat symptoms and not as a treatment for scabies.
How To Get Rid Of Scabies On A Mattress
Removing scabies mites from bedding or clothing requires machine washing on a very hot cycle; however, we need a different approach to eliminating scabies from a mattress. Below are a few methods you could try.
- Vacuuming: make sure to vacuum the top, bottom, sides, and seams. Be sure to throw the vacuum bag away once you're finished.
- Steam cleaning: high-temperature steam cleaning your mattress (at least 60°C).
- Permethrin spray: permethrin spray is an insecticide used to kill scabies mites. Always be sure to read and follow the instructions - you will most likely need to leave the room and not use the mattress for a certain period after spraying.
- Plastic cover or mattress protector: these will prevent physical contact between people and the scabies mites. These mites can only survive 2 to 3 days with human contact, so this may be a good option.
- Replacing your mattress: if you are unsuccessful in all of the above, perhaps a new mattress is the best option.
It may also be a good idea to treat other upholstery, linen or clothing - to minimise the chances of reinfestation.
The Difference Between Scabies, Bed Bugs, And Dust Mites
Scabies mites, bed bugs and dust mites can take up residence in your mattress, on your bedding, and you. Whether you've had a run-in with either of them or not, you've almost certainly heard of them. There are similarities between the three, but some very noticeable differences - it's helpful to be aware of the differences so that you can deal with the uninvited guests accordingly, and hopefully successfully.
|Characteristic||Scabies mites||Bed bugs||Dust mites|
|Name||Sarcoptes scabiei (parasitic)||Cimex lectularius or Cimex hemipterus (parasitic)||Pyroglyphidae (non-parasitic)|
|Prevalence||Although most prevalent✓ in tropical regions within east Asia, southeast Asia, Oceania, and tropical Latin America, scabies can be found worldwide||Beg bugs can be found worldwide, but their prevalence is said to be increasing in developed countries✓||Dust mites are found worldwide, however, they are more common in humid climates (or where humidity is artificially raised)✓|
|Description||Oval, straw-coloured mites covered with fine lines and several long hairs||Flat, wingless insects with a reddish-brown colour||Small and translucent spider-like insect with a flattened body shape|
|Feeds on||Scabies mites eat the skin and tissue fluids from the tunnels they burrow into human skin||They feed on warm-blooded hosts - usually humans and sometimes other mammals if need be||Dust mites feed on skin flakes from humans and other animals, and on some mould|
|Life cycle||10-17 days||6-12 months||65-100 days|
|Preferred habitat||Survive only 2-3 days away from human skin - may be found on bedding, clothing, or towels||Close to where a person sleeps -they like dry, dark places such as mattress seams, bed frames, bed frames, or cracks and crevices in walls or furniture||Dust mites like warm and humid locations filled with dust - like bedding, carpets, upholstery and curtains|
|Symptoms/presentation||A pimple-like rash caused by an allergic reaction, with intense itchiness (usually at night), sometimes with tiny burrows visible on the skin. Sores and infection can be caused by scratching||Red dots, irritation, itchiness on the skin - can also trigger an allergic reaction||Dust mite allergy which may cause sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, itchy, red or watery eyes, amongst others|
|How to remove from mattresses||Vacuuming, steam cleaning, permethrin spray, or plastic cover mattress protectors||Notoriously difficult to remove. Often replacement of all bedding, bed and mattress is recommended. Some studies suggest✓ that bed bug removal from a home requires a professional||Dust mite proof mattress covers and protectors or steam cleaning is typically suggested|
Sensitisation And Allergies
The symptoms of scabies (rash and itching) are caused by sensitisation to the proteins and faeces and not the scabies mite itself. Similarly, it is not the dust mite that we are "allergic" to, rather dust mite allergens contained in the mite faeces, exoskeletons and decaying body fragments that we become sensitised and sometimes allergic to (resulting in symptoms like sneezing and coughing).
"Sensitisation" and "allergy" are often used interchangeably; however, they are not essentially the same thing. Sensitisation is the process whereby your immune system becomes sensitive to an allergen and produces specific IgE antibodies in defence to that antigen. You are sensitised when you have these antibodies in your blood.
Some people are sensitised to a specific allergen and, when re-exposed, do not develop symptoms, whereas others do. The IgE antibodies✓ present on the surface of some cell types then set off a cascade of reactions that involve the release of substances (like histamine) that ultimately cause swelling and inflammation in the surrounding tissues and subsequent irritation and harm.
Scabies is a skin condition caused by an infestation of tiny mites burrowing and laying eggs under the outer layers of human skin. This infestation leads to itching and a rash. Typically, scabies mites can live for 2 to 3 days on a mattress or other surfaces. You can eliminate these mites from your mattress by vacuuming, steam cleaning, spraying with permethrin, or using a plastic cover or mattress protector to prevent contact with humans. It's essential to eradicate these mites and their eggs to prevent further infestation.