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How common is scabies?

Scabies is one of the more common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because it’s easily passed on through skin contact. Most men treat themselves at home or their doctor treats them.

What causes scabies?

Scabies is an infection of the skin caused by tiny parasitic mites. They burrow under the skin, causing itching.

What are the symptoms of scabies?

The mites can’t be seen, and some people only get very mild itching which they don’t realise is due to scabies. For some people the itching can be intense, usually starting two to six weeks after infection.

The mites burrowing under the skin can leave red lines, especially between fingers and around wrists. The mites can also be found on feet, buttocks, stomach, arse, cock and balls.

How is scabies passed on?

Scabies is easily passed on through body contact during sex. It can also be passed on through sharing clothes, towels and bedding, but this isn’t common.

How is scabies prevented?

There’s no way to stop yourself getting scabies, but if you have it you can prevent it spreading by:

  • Washing any clothing, bedding and towels on a hot wash.
  • Dry-cleaning leather clothing or sealing it in a plastic bag for two weeks.
  • Making sure people who you’ve had sex with, or who’ve shared your bed, towels or clothes, are also treated.

No-one’s immune to scabies. If you’ve had it before, you can get it again.

How is scabies treated?

You can treat scabies at home using a lotion such as Quellada. You can get this cheaply from a chemist without a prescription or free at a sexual health clinic. You spread the lotion over your whole body, including the palms of your hands, soles of your feet and between fingers and toes (but not your face or head), and leave it on for 24 hours. A second treatment may be needed a week later.

Even when the treatment works you may still itch for several weeks. But if you are still itching after two weeks, a clinic will advise you what to do.

Try not to scratch the itch as you could develop impetigo and need antibiotics.

Only repeat the treatment if a doctor tells you to, as too much lotion can irritate your skin.

Last review: 09/11/2018
Next review: 09/11/2021