What Do Scabies Bites Look Like?


A woman laying in bed scratches at her arm.
Highlights
  • Scabies rashes are caused by an immune response to Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis — a human itch mite.

  • The itchy rash resembles pimply bumps under the skin and are often found on wrists, elbows, armpits, shoulder blades, and between the fingers.

  • A scabies rash is usually linear, but burrow marks that appear in an ‘s’ or zigzag shape are also common signs that set the rash apart from other similar skin conditions.

The Basics of Scabies: Understanding the Condition

A scabies rash is an infestation of the human itch mite, Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis. At any given time, about 200 million people worldwide suffer from scabies.

The mites are typically spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who is infested, but they can also be transferred through clothing, bedding, towels, and furniture.

Because a scabies infection is most commonly spread through direct skin contact, it’s widely considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

However, scabies is not only transmitted sexually; it can also be spread in crowded spaces like nursing homes, hospitals, classrooms, daycares, dorms, and prisons.

What are the most common symptoms of scabies?

The most common symptom of scabies is an intense itching that worsens at night. This itch is also generally accompanied by a pimply rash.

The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that a scabies rash is actually caused by an immune response to the mites living and breeding under the skin and not by their bites.

It’s important to note that excessive scratching may lead to a bacterial infection and, in extreme cases, even sepsis.

How to Identify a Scabies Infestation

It may be hard to identify scabies as it can sometimes look similar to rashes caused by other conditions such as dermatitis or psoriasis.

An itch mite infestation can also, in some cases, be invisible. Let’s take a look at some of the things that may help to determine if a rash or skin lesions are caused by scabies.

Location

There are some areas on the body that are more prone to scabies rashes than others. Scabies rashes are typically found in the:

  • Wrists

  • Elbows

  • Armpits

  • Shoulder blades

  • Between the fingers

  • Penis

  • Nipples

  • Waist

  • Buttocks

Pattern

The scabies rash itself is usually linear. However, another key feature of a scabies infestation is an S-shaped or zigzag patterned markings caused by visible mite burrows.

An outstretched hand with a scabies rash on the back of the palm.

Appearance

A scabies rash is described by the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) as small bumps or knots under the skin that may resemble pimples.

If the scabies infestation is severe, a person may develop crusted – or Norwegian – scabies.

This form of scabies is caused by a hyper-infestation of mites and usually presents as a widespread rash that becomes crusted and, in many cases, infected.

Compared to standard infestation, crusted scabies is typically accompanied by little to no itch.

Timing

A scabies-related rash generally takes between four and six weeks to become visible. It typically develops as a result of an immune response to the presence of mite proteins and feces inside the scabies burrow.

A person is a scabies carrier (and therefore contagious) from the moment that they become infested, which is often weeks before they develop symptoms.

How is Scabies Typically Treated?

Scabies is usually treated with a topical scabicide, which is a prescribed ointment used to kill scabies mites. In several countries, oral ivermectin is also prescribed to treat scabies.

Key Point: The Itch Often Intensifies with Treatment

When scabies treatment is started, those suffering from the infestation generally find that the itch intensifies for one to two weeks before it improves.

Because infested individuals are often contagious before experiencing any symptoms, your entire household and anyone else you’ve had close contact with should also be treated.

If you have scabies, you should thoroughly wash clothes, towels, and linen in hot water as well as vacuum the carpets and furniture.

You can also seal items that may contain mites in plastic for 72 hours, as the mites cannot survive for longer than three days outside the human body.

A woman stands in shorts and itches at her buttocks.

Where Can I Learn More About Scabies and Other STDs?

If you’re looking for more information on scabies or any other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), LifeMD’s online portal can connect you with licensed medical professionals who can answer your questions.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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