Scabies is an easily spread skin condition. It is very common and anyone can get it - it has nothing to do with poor hygiene. It should be treated quickly. Scabies is caused by tiny mites which burrow into the skin.

Scabies is passed from person to person by skin-to-skin contact. You cannot get scabies from pets.

Scabies is very infectious but it can take up to 8 weeks for the rash to appear. Everyone in the household needs to be treated at the same time – even if they do not have symptoms.

Symptoms of scabies

One of the first symptoms is intense itching, especially at night.

The scabies rash usually spreads across the whole body – apart from the head.

You may also develop a rash on your head and neck if you:

  • are elderly
  • are a very young child
  • have a weakened immune system

The immune system is the body's natural defence against illness and infection.

Tiny mites lay eggs in the skin, leaving silvery lines with a dot at one end.
The rash can appear anywhere, but it often starts between the fingers.
The rash spreads and turns into tiny red spots.

Treatment for scabies

Scabies is not usually a serious condition, but you should treat it quickly.

A pharmacist will recommend a cream or lotion that you apply over your body. It's important to read the instructions carefully. You'll need to repeat the treatment 1 week later.

If you have had sexual contact with anyone in the past 8 weeks, they should also be treated.

People who live or work closely together in nurseries or nursing homes are more at risk.

Help with itchiness

Calamine lotion may help to relieve itchy skin. It is available without a prescription.

If you are very itchy, your GP can prescribe creams, such as a mild steroid cream. These can help to relieve the symptoms of itchiness.

How to stop scabies spreading

Make sure to:

  • wash all bedding and clothing in the house at 50 degrees Celsius or higher on the first day of treatment
  • put clothing that cannot be washed in a sealed bag for 3 days until the mites die
  • stop babies and children sucking treatment from their hands. Put socks or mittens on them.

You will need to avoid:

  • having sex or close physical contact until you've finished your treatment
  • sharing bedding, clothing or towels with someone with scabies

How long it takes to get rid of scabies

You or your child can go back to work or school 24 hours after the first treatment.

Although the treatment kills the scabies mites quickly, the itching can carry on for a few weeks.

Non-urgent advice: Talk to your GP if:

  • your skin is still itching 4 weeks after treatment has finished

Complications of scabies

Scratching the rash can cause skin infections like impetigo.

Scabies can make conditions like eczema or psoriasis worse.

A more severe, but uncommon, form of scabies can happen in cases where there are a lot of mites in the skin. This is called crusted scabies. It can affect elderly people and those with a lowered immune system.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 26 April 2020
Next review due: 26 April 2023

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.