What is scabies?

Scabies is a skin condition caused by mites (little bugs) that burrow under the skin and produce small red bumps and severe itching. The mites easily spread from person to person, especially among people who share close living spaces. If one family member has scabies, other family members and close contacts must be checked and treated at the same time.

The mites live in the folds and narrow cracks of the skin. Common mite sites include:

  • Folds in between the fingers and toes.
  • Bends at the wrists.
  • Area around the belt line.
  • Bends at the knees.
  • Under fingernails.
  • Folds in thighs.
  • Under rings, watch bands, and bracelets.
  • Folds in genitals.
  • Area around the nipples (in women).

Who gets scabies?

Anyone can get scabies. Poor hygiene does not lead to scabies. People who are more likely to get scabies include:

  • People who live in close, crowded conditions.
  • Infants and children. (Children have a lot of close, physical contact with others, including their mothers, parents, friends, family members, and classmates.)
  • The elderly, especially those living in nursing homes.
  • Healthcare workers who care for people not aware they have scabies.

What are the symptoms of scabies?

The symptoms of scabies include:

  • Intense itching.
  • Skin rash of tiny red bumps that look like bites or pimples. (These spread slowly over a period of weeks or months.)
  • An intense itch that leads to loss of sleep.
  • Bumps that sometimes become infected as a result of scratching.

Children with scabies may have itching all over their bodies and may be cranky or tired from lack of sleep due to itching at night.

A person can be infected with scabies for four to six weeks before having symptoms. It's important that you get rechecked up to six weeks after you think you may have been exposed or any time symptoms occur, even if you were already screened for scabies.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/05/2019.


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