What Is Scabies & How Do You Get Rid Of It?

We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. This week’s topic: what to do if you have scabies.

Q: I’ve been dealing with some intense itchiness for five days now. I have this rash all over my skin that has gross pimples and redness. I’m super worried it’s an STD because I slept with a new guy a few weeks ago and now I'm having an itchy gross freakout. I didn’t notice a rash on him but it was dark and I wasn’t really paying attention to his skin because, you know, I was hooking up. But now I feel terrible and it’s not going away. I Googled it and it looks like it might be scabies! What is that and what do I do?

A: You should definitely go to your doctor to get diagnosed, but it sounds like it's possible you might have scabies. Scabies is a skin disease that makes you itch and have a pimply rash and that you can get from having sex with someone who also has it — although that’s not the only way to get it. Luckily, the treatment for this situation is simple, so let’s cut to the chase so you can find some relief!

1. What Is Scabies?

Scabies is an itchy skin disease that’s caused by an itch mite. Yep, I’m talking about a tiny bug — just one third of a millimeter long, in fact. Mites have eight tiny little legs, and they burrow into your skin to make tiny tunnels inside you, like the antagonist scourge of an '80s horror flick. Into the tunnels they deposit their eggs, which subsequently hatch, and the larvae mosey up to the surface of your skin, where they grow into full-grown microscopic mites that can travel to other parts of your own skin or to the skin of other people. The itchy feeling you get from this lifecycle is your actually having an allergic reaction to the mites, their eggs, and their waste is inside your skin. I know, not pleasant.

This disease is actually super common; there are around one million cases in the United States each year, and 300 million cases worldwide. So if this is happening to you, trust me — you're not alone.

2. How Do You Get Them?

Scabies mites spread predominantly by direct skin-to-skin contact. Luckily, they can’t jump from person to person. This means that in order to get scabies, you pretty much need to touch someone who has them. I’m specifically talking about prolonged contact here — touching someone briefly won’t do it, but a long hug or the sustained contact we experience during sex can (which is why scabies is characterized as a sexually transmitted disease). There’s also a possibility that you can get scabies from someone by sharing a bed or clothing, but this is way less common.

3. How Do I Know If I Have Them?

Unfortunately, mites are too small to see without a magnifying glass or microscope, so you won’t be able to see the actual offending critters to diagnose yourself or someone else. But if you are extremely itchy and have a pimple-y rash in the itchy area, you might have scabies.

Scabies rash is comprised of small red bumps and blisters (often described as looking like pimples) with thin red, brown, or gray lines inside the rash. The rash usually shows up in a few main places — the skin webbing between the fingers, on the wrists, on the back of elbows and knees, around the waist and nipples, around the feet, and around the genitals and butt (remember, scabies can be transmitted sexually). While this rash doesn't look much like mosquito bites, scabies rash is still often misdiagnosed as bed bug bites. While the mites are super tiny, they can cause a big rash. For instance, just 15 mites can cause a rash that has hundreds of bumps. (You can’t say this infection isn’t enterprising.)

It's also important to know that if you're exposed to the scabies mite, you won't necessarily notice right away. If this is your first time getting scabies, you might not get symptoms for four or even six weeks. During this time you're still contagious, though. If you've had scabies before in your life, your body reacts much faster and you can get symptoms one to four days after you are exposed.

4. How Do I Get Rid Of Them?

Luckily, you can get rid of scabies. You do this by getting oral or topical medication from your doctor. These will most likely be Permethrin cream, Lindane lotion, Crotamiton (also called Eurax), or Ivermectin (also called Stromectol). You don't have to remember these names — your doctor will know best what to prescribe you. So if you’re feeling itchy and have a pimply rash, call up your doctor, walk into your local clinic — basically, go get the care you need.

5. How Do I Make Sure I Don’t Reinfect Myself Or Give Them To Someone Else?

Mites are pretty resilient, but only when they're physically on you (aka in your skin). They can live on a human body for up to two months, but on other non-human things they're far more delicate and usually die after 48 to 72 hours. They also are killed by heat — heating them up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) for ten minutes will get rid of them.

To make sure you don't reinfect yourself or give scabies to someone else, do the prescription treatment on your skin; then clean all your clothes, towels, and bedding with hot water and soap and dry them with high heat; dry clean things you can’t wash yourself. You can do this with all your clothes, but really, the most important ones are those you touched or wore in the three days before you got treated (remember that mites can't live all that long without you). For things you can’t wash, don’t despair — you can get them mite-free by sealing them in a plastic bag for a couple of weeks.

Finally, if you know that you have scabies mites and you routinely canoodle with a certain person or persons, hang on a certain couch, crash in your friend’s bed, whatever — disclose your status and make sure to get those other things cleaned. I know it can be hard to talk about this sort of thing, but it’s important that these people and areas get treated as well, if they are infected.

The Bottom Line

Scabies is a not-fun but totally treatable skin disease that humans get. It’s just a fact. If you’re noticing the symptoms of a scabies infestation in your body, get treatment. Then go back to living your life. You will get better!

Images: Pexels, Giphy