Scabies factsheet

Introduction

Scabies is a skin condition caused by tiny mites called Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites burrow under the skin, causing strong itching and a rash. 

Scabies spread through close contact and sharing bedding and towels, usually within a household. Anyone can get scabies, and it is not a sign of poor hygiene. It is more common in school-aged children and elderly adults. 

Scratching scabies can cause tears in the skin and lead to infections like impetigo or school sores, so it's important to get treatment as soon as possible.

 Signs and symptoms

Symptoms can include:

  • itching - especially at night and after hot baths
  • bumps, blisters, or raised scratches on the skin
  • in babies, a rash on the palms, soles of the feet and scalp.

Symptoms can show up on the skin in areas like:

  • armpits
  • between fingers and toes
  • wrists
  • elbows
  • the bottom
  • the groin.

Diagnosis

Your local doctor can diagnose scabies based on your signs and symptoms.

Scabies can spread easily, so everyone in your household should be checked.

Treatment

Your child’s doctor may prescribe a cream, like permethrin, to treat the scabies.

Before your child goes to bed, apply the cream to their entire body from the neck down, including areas that are not itchy, like:

  • elbows
  • nipples
  • the penis or vulva
  • hands
  • feet
  • under finger and toenails.  

The cream must be left on for at least eight hours before it is washed off. If it is washed off the hands during the treatment time, it must be reapplied. Repeat this in seven to ten days or as directed by your child’s doctor.

Some young children and family members may need treatment with anti-parasite tablets. Everyone in the household should be treated at the same time, even if they are not itchy.

Speak to your local doctor about the most suitable treatment and directions for your child and family.

 Management

Preventing the spread

All shared bedding, towels, and clothes should be washed in hot water above 60 degrees Celsius.

If you cannot wash some items, you can:

  • have them dry-cleaned
  • iron them
  • place them in a sealed plastic bag for at least seven days.

Make sure to treat everyone in your home and any other close contacts, including visitors. 

Keep anyone infected home from daycare, school, and other activities until 24 hours after starting treatment.

Last updated Wednesday 12th June 2024

Disclaimer

This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024


This factsheet was produced with support from John Hunter Children's Hospital.