What are scabies?

What are scabies?

Scabies is caused by tiny parasitic mites, which burrow into the skin and lay eggs.

Scabies is common. It’s easily passed from one person to another through close body contact or all types of sexual contact.


What are the symptoms (signs) of scabies?

What are the symptoms (signs) of scabies?

Symptoms can take up to 6 weeks to start to appear.

You may notice:

  • intense itching in the affected area which may become worse in bed at night or after a hot bath or shower
  • an itchy red rash or tiny spots
  • inflammation or raw, broken skin in the affected areas – usually caused by scratching
  • fine silvery lines are sometimes visible in the skin where mites have burrowed

Scabies mites are too tiny to see with the naked eye, but sometimes signs of scabies will be noticed during a routine genital or medical examination.

The mites which cause scabies can be found in the genital area, on the hands, between the fingers, on the wrists and elbows, underneath the arms, on the abdomen, on the breasts, around the nipples in women, on the feet and ankles, and around the buttocks.

Treatment for scabies

Treatment for scabies

You apply a cream or lotion to the whole body from the neck downwards and rinse off after 12 hours. This is best done overnight.

You should wash clothing, bedding and towels in a washing machine on a very hot cycle (60°C or higher) to kill the mites and avoid re-infection.

Close contacts in your household should be treated at the same time, as well as your sexual partner, even if they don’t have any signs or symptoms.

If you use the treatment according to the instructions, it’s rare for it not to work. Even after successful treatment, the itching or rash may continue for a few weeks. Special tablets or creams (antihistamines), or anti-irritant lotions such as calamine, can ease the itching.

What should I do if I think I have scabies?

What should I do if I think I have scabies?

You can only be certain you have scabies if you have a check-up.

You can book an appointment at one of our clinics and have a check-up as soon as you have signs or symptoms or if you think you might’ve been in contact with scabies.

A doctor or nurse can often tell if you have scabies just by looking at the affected areas.

In some cases, treatment will be suggested if scabies is suspected, even if it can’t be confirmed.

Your GP or pharmacy can also help, although you may have to pay for treatment.


How can I avoid getting scabies?

How can I avoid getting scabies?

It is not 100% possible to avoid as scabies can be caught through close social body or sexual contact. Avoiding close body or sexual contact with infected people will reduce your risk.

How can we help you?
Pubic lice

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Accessing our service during the COVID pandemic

How to access our service:

We have now implemented a telephone triage system for all of our clinics. This system will be in place for the duration of the pandemic. Please contact our services to access this triage system. Our central telephone number is 0300 303 3989.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus please do not attend the clinic. Clear advice for people with symptoms of coronavirus is available at nhs.uk/coronavirus .

Advice from our service:

We have updated information on the provision of routine contraception during this pandemic here.

More details on the fitting of LARCs (coils and implants) at our service can be found here

If you need the combined contraceptive pill please try (if you can) to get updated measurements of your height, weight and blood pressure before calling us.

There is also specific advice on coronavirus available for People Living with HIV here, and for pregnant women here

Self-requested Sexual Health screening by post is available for for under 25s only - more info here

For others with testing requirements please contact the service on 0300 303 3989.

Alternative provision:

Please be aware that we may have to cancel, rearrange or shut clinical services in response to changing clinical and staffing pressures created by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

If you are struggling to access sexual health services, alternatives may be available:

  • Emergency Contraception - at your local pharmacy - more info
  • Contraceptive pills and LARC procedures - obtained from your GP
  • HIV postal testing - available to at-risk groups for a small fee -  more info
  • HIV PEPSE - available via A+E departments - more info
  • Condoms by post (for gay and bisexual men only) - more info