Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can be classified as bacterial, fungal, parasitic, or viral. Scabies is an example of a parasitic STD. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines scabies as a skin condition “caused by an infestation of the skin by the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis).”
The “human itch mite” is, unfortunately, aptly named. The mite burrows under the skin to lay its eggs. This causes a distinctive series of little red burrow lines. The body’s natural allergic reaction to the presence of the mite and its feces results in a rash of red bumps in the affected area, and very bad itching, which can be especially severe at night.
Scabies is generally spread through sexual or other close contact, though it is possible to get it from inanimate objects such as shared bedding, clothes, or towels.
Though often present in the genital area, scabies can also occur elsewhere on the body, including the breasts, wrists, fingers, abdomen, buttocks, thighs, or ankles.
Thankfully scabies is a treatable condition. The mite and its eggs can be killed with a topical pesticide.
Over-the-counter products containing the chemical permethrin such as Rid and Nix designed for use against pubic lice (crabs) are often used for scabies as well. However, the CDC notes that no over-the-counter medication has been formally approved for treatment of human scabies.
The CDC recommends instead the use of prescription medications. There are creams with a higher concentration of permethrin, as well as another chemical treatment called lindane, and a non-chemical treatment (often used for babies) called crotamiton.
The cream must be used all over the body from the neck down, and then washed off after the specified number of hours on the directions.
Doctors can also prescribe an oral medication called ivermectin for severe cases, cases that are not responsive to the lotions and creams, and for patients with altered immune systems.
Though there shouldn’t be a problem killing the mites with the proper treatment, that does not mean full relief will be immediate. The allergic reaction of the body can last days or even weeks after the mites are gone, meaning one may not be fully free of the itch for a long time.
The CDC also recommends treatment for household members and sexual contacts, particularly those who have had prolonged direct skin-to-skin contact with the infested person. All persons should be treated at the same time to avoid possible reinfestation.
It is also an important part of treatment to treat the items that can transmit scabies. All clothes, towels, bedding, etc. should either be kept free of contact for 72 hours or more sealed in a plastic bag, or thoroughly washed. Dry cleaning, or washing in hot water and drying on high heat should eliminate any of the mites that cause scabies.
Elizabeth Boskey, “Scabies: An Overview.” About.com.
“Scabies.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Scabies.” Mayo Clinic.