Health Library

What is Scabies?

Scabies is a common skin problem caused by mites, which look like small ticks. These mites burrow into the skin and cause an itchy rash with small red bumps and blisters. Sometimes, the skin can also become infected, although there are no long-term effects of scabies.

Scabies is highly contagious and is spread by close contact. If untreated, it can last indefinitely. Scabies is not caused by poor hygiene.


Scabies is caused by infestation with small mites, which are not insects but more closely related to ticks and spiders. Scabies mites live only on humans, where they burrow into the skin to lay eggs.


The rash and itching that occur with scabies can be very severe. It may take several weeks for these symptoms to develop after exposure to the mites. In young infants, the rash may occur on the scalp, body, arms, legs, palms, soles and diaper area and may appear as large red bumps. In older children and adults, the rash is most often seen on the hands (especially between the fingers), the underarms, the genital area and the waist, where small red bumps and blisters develop.


Treatment for scabies requires the use of topical (skin) medication to kill the mites and any eggs. In general, all close contacts such as household members should be treated, even if they have no symptoms since the onset of symptoms may be delayed and as scabies is highly contagious.

Older infants and children are treated with Permethrin 5% cream (Elimite). The treatment should be repeated in seven days. Young infants and pregnant women are treated with 5% precipitated sulfur in petrolatum. Treatment should be done once a night for three nights in a row.

For infants, apply the medicine to the scalp, forehead, body, arms, legs, hands, feet and diaper area. For older children and adults, apply the medicine from the neck down to the feet, covering all body areas. Also apply between the fingers and toes and in the genital area. Leave the medicine on overnight (eight to 14 hours). In the morning, wash it off completely with shampoo and soap.

Your doctor may also prescribe a topical steroid cream and / or an oral (by mouth) medicine to help with the itching.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if your child continues to have a rash and / or itching more than four weeks after treatment, or if they develop signs of a skin infection such as pain, swelling, increasing redness of the skin, colored drainage, or a fever greater than 100.4 degrees.

Last Updated 09/2021

Reviewed By Nichole Halliburton, APRN-CNP

Visiting Cincinnati Childrens.

Cincinnati Children’s has primary care services at locations throughout Greater Cincinnati.