It Happens: Dealing With Scabies
****Warning: If you're squeamish about bugs (or more specifically, skin-tunneling parasites) DO NOT READ ON.****
According to the website medicinenet, scabies is a "contagious skin disease marked by itching and small raised red spots, caused by the itch mite." Another all-too-honest site I visited mentioned that scabies is "not an infection, it's an infestation." Of your skin. Translation: scabies are SUPER GROSS. If you have scabies that means a parasite - or multiple parasites - is burrowing in your skin, causing super itchy welt-like rashes. You're probably thinking, "Wow, that's foul. Why are we talking about this?" Well, dear readers, it is because I myself was recently plagued by scabies. At the time, I didn't find much helpful info online and thought I'd do my best here to help anyone who might be looking for help like I was back then.
How do I even get scabies?
Unlike what I first suspected, scabies are NOT like bed bugs. You can get them from bedding and clothing but you also get scabies from prolonged person to person contact. In my case, I think I got scabies after holding hands with some new toddler friends on the beach in Vanuatu.
What does scabies look like?
Well, you are in luck. As I mentioned above, I personally had scabies back in August. Here's what it looked like on me:
Yeah, you're welcome for those gross close-up shots of my arm and stomach. As you can see, scabies is a rash-like spread of welts. My stomach was where I first noticed it and, as you can tell from the righthand picture, there was a big cluster of welts that the others seemed to spread from. My arm and stomach weren't the only places I got the welts, either. I got welts all over my buttcheeks, "underboob" area, and on the soles of my feet. Yep, all convenient to scratch while on the job. NOT. Apparently, the most common areas for scabies mites to tunnel into your skin (excuse me while I shudder) are warm, moist areas of your body such as your butt, groin, and armpits.
FYI: It's important to note that you may not see the tell-tale scabies "rash" until about at least two weeks after your first encounter with a scabies mite. That means if you have scabies now, you've got to think back to at least two weeks prior in order to determine who/where/what the source of your scabies could be. Some people don't notice scabies symptoms until 6 whole weeks after contact with mites! Lesson here: don't write a nasty review of some place you stayed where you think you got scabies unless you can be sure.
Ok, I definitely have scabies. What do I do now? How can I get rid of them ASAP?
STEP ONE: SLATHER YOURSELF IN SCABIES CREAM
There is really only one way to definitively get rid of scabies mites and that is by covering yourself head-to-toe in a scabies cream. Scabies cream is any ointment from the pharmacy that contains permethrin, usually 5%. In the UK and here in Australia, permethrin creams are available over the counter (OTC) at pharmacies - aka "chemists". Back home in the US, the internet consensus is that they are prescription only. (Though some sketchos say you can order it on ebay from Sri Lanka??) Even though I was in Australia where it's available OTC, I chose to go to a walk-in clinic because I wanted to confirm for sure that I had scabies. The doctor gave me a prescription for two tubes of Lyclear brand scabies cream. One to use immediately, and another to use exactly one week later.
I wish he'd prescribed more, however, because I barely had enough. You see, I had to cover myself in the ointment and SO DID EMMETT. That's right: if you sleep in the same bed with a partner or friend, they HAVE TO put the ointment on too. Otherwise, they'll also get the scabies infestation and you two will just keep giving it back to each other - like a gross game of prolonged, itchy tag. You might also want to notify anybody else that you could have been in close personal contact with so they're aware/can preventatively use scabies cream themselves.
Using the scabies cream is relatively straightforward, if not time-consuming. First, take a shower before bed and then dry off really well. Then spread the ointment all over your skin from the neck down. Leave the ointment on overnight (8-10 hours), then shower again in the morning. Be sure to clean all of the ointment off of your body because the key ingredient is actually an insecticide that can damage your kidneys if left on too long. Yikes. Lastly, if (like I did) you notice more welts appearing afterwards, apply the ointment a second time using the same process exactly one week after the first time you used it.
STEP TWO: WASH EVERYTHING YOU OWN
Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING you own. But everything that you came into contact with while infested. (Jeez, just writing "while infested" makes me cringe with discomfort). That means you need to wash bedding, towels, clothes... Everything you touched for more than a few minutes at a time. I recommend a hot water cycle for comfort. Although apparently one regular warm - or even cold - wash is enough to kill scabies mites.
STEP THREE: RELIEF
Take antihistamine pills or use an itch relief cream to help curb the insane itchiness that you will have for as long as the rash lasts. For me that was only about a week and a half after the second Lyclear treatment. Thank goodness I always pack Benadryl with me on trips.
How can I avoid scabies?
As a general rule, maybe don't come into close contact with people who have intensely itchy rashes OR as in my case, little kids who have itchy "bites" around their hands and feet. That being said, as I mentioned earlier you can also get them from linens or clothing. If you buy something from a shop, another good rule of thumb (for many reasons, not just scabies) is to wash products before using them. Clothes, bedding, pillows, etc.
It may be unavoidable to get scabies from a hotel or hostel, however. You can only hope that you wouldn't stay somewhere with low cleaning standards... but it happens. I know a lot of places that don't wash their comforters (called "doonas" here in Aus) or bedspreads between each guest. If you're hyper-paranoid about it, remove those covers from the bed. Overall though, like bed bugs, scabies mites just might find their way to you. If they do, have no fear. You can get rid of them if you find yourself some scabies cream and try not to think too hard about the reality of what's happening to you.
That's it folks! I hope you learned something from this! Please feel free to comment below with any scabies-related questions or concerns. I'll do my best to help you with the knowledge I gained through personal experience. Also, if you're reading this because it happened to you... Just know that I feel your pain. Or rather, your discomfort. It's a really gross and itchy problem to have. I'm sorry that it's happening to you.