This is a contagious disorder that is caused by a little mite and is characterized by intensely itching lesions that can take many shapes. The itch is often markedly worse at night because the female insects burrow beneath the skin to lay their eggs, which causes the irritation.
Areas of the body that are most commonly affected are between the webs of the fingers and wrists, but it can appear anywhere.
Identification is by recognizing the characteristic burrows, which are a few millimetres to one centimetre long, wavy and with a little lump at one end. The body mounts an immune response against this mite, as it would to any other infection, and therefore the more often an infection is contracted, the more aggressive the response can be. A patient who has never had scabies before may remain symptomless for anywhere up to one month, by which time a large area may be infected.
Unrecognized, the irritation may continue and the itching will lead to the possibility of secondary infection, an eczema-like condition and a persisting and profoundly irritating rash.
Investigation is usually done by a GP, who will recognize the characteristic lesions and may be able to spot the mites with a magnifying glass. It is possible to remove a parasite from a burrow with a pin and look at it under a microscope. Skin scrapings may also be examined in this way.
Orthodox lotions are effective and, if the skin is not particularly damaged, are unlikely to be absorbed at a rate that a healthy body could not deal with. Treatment is swift and efficient, although repeated use of the chemicals might be necessary whilst the remaining eggs hatch.
Lavender oil is a well-established and longstanding treatment, probably working in the same way as proprietary drugs. A quantity in the bath or directly applied if the area infected is small may do the trick, but it needs to be repeated twice a day for five days at least.
All clothes need to be thoroughly cleaned if they have been worn within a week. Mites generally do not live longer than 3-4 days away from the skin and one week is allowing a good safety margin.
The homeopathic remedy Sulphur 6, taken four times per day, is often effective although it may exacerbate the irritation and cause a flare-up of any other underlying skin conditions.
Please note that all members of a family, and possibly a school group, should be treated.