Scabies: Care Instructions

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Scabies is a very itchy rash caused by tiny bugs called mites. These tiny mites dig just under the skin and lay eggs. An allergic reaction to the mites causes the itching. It can take 4 to 6 weeks after a person gets scabies for the allergic reaction to start.

Scabies is usually spread by close contact with another person who has scabies. Sometimes scabies is spread through shared towels, clothes, and bedding.

Scabies can be treated with medicine if you follow directions carefully. Usually everyone in the house needs to be treated. The medicine kills the mites within a day. But the itching commonly lasts for 2 to 4 weeks after treatment because the allergic reaction continues.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Use the medicine your doctor recommends or prescribes. Follow your doctor's instructions carefully. Two treatments may be needed to cure scabies.
  • Wash all clothes, bedding, and towels that you and others in your household used in the 3 days before you started treatment. Use hot water, and use the hot cycle in the dryer. Another option is to dry-clean these items. Or seal them (including any stuffed animals) in a plastic bag for 3 days.
  • On the day you start treatment, vacuum the room or rooms used by anyone who had scabies.
  • An oral antihistamine may help stop itching. You also can use a nonprescription anti-itch cream. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not have physical contact with other people or let anyone use your personal items until you have finished treatment. Do not use other people's personal items until your treatment is done. Tell people with whom you have sexual or close contact that they will likely need treatment.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have signs of a worsening infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Pus draining from a bite area.
    • A fever.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.