This webpage provides questions and answers (Q&A) about scabies.
Scabies, or ‘the itch’, is a contagious disease caused by the itch mite. This is a small insect that you cannot see with the naked eye. The mite digs tunnels into the surface of your skin and lays eggs there. Your skin then has an allergic reaction to the mite, which causes itching.
No. Scabies does not go away on its own. Without treatment, the mites will continue to grow in number. That is why it is important that you get treatment. This also stops the symptoms from getting worse and stops you from spreading scabies to others.
Scabies is more common in the winter than in the summer. There are signs that the number of cases is increasing, but exact figures are not known. Scabies is not a disease that must be reported. Because not all cases are reported to the GGD, RIVM does not have any figures.
Yes. Sometimes scabies outbreaks happen in nursing homes and care facilities, student houses, asylum seekers’ centres and other places where people live closely together.
These are some of the symptoms:
- Itching that continues to get worse. You can have itching all over your body, especially at night and when it is hot.
- Blisters and red lumps between your fingers, on your wrists and on your feet.
- You may also see red stripes on your skin. This is where the mites have dug tunnels.
- Children up to the age of four can also have itching and blisters on their head.
You can get scabies by sharing a bed, clothing or cuddly toys with someone who has scabies. It can also spread if you have more than 15 minutes of skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies, for example when you help them bathe or get dressed, have sex with them or sleep with them in the same bed.
No. Anyone can get scabies. The only way of not getting it is by not sharing unwashed bed linen or clothing and by avoiding physical contact with anyone who has scabies.
If this is the first time you have had scabies, the time between getting it and feeling symptoms is two to six weeks. If you get scabies again, you will start itching after a few days.
You will be contagious as long as there are mites and mite eggs in your skin. Scabies is no longer contagious 12 hours after effective treatment.
Anyone can get scabies. Some are more at risk, such as:
- people who live and work in care facilities, such as in the healthcare sector;
- people who live closely together, such as in asylum seekers’ centres, prisons and homeless shelters;
- travellers who sleep in less hygienic conditions;
- people with multiple sexual partners.
You can get scabies more than once.
There is no vaccine or medication to protect against scabies. In most cases, getting scabies is simply a matter of bad luck. But you can take the following steps:
- Do not use unwashed clothing or bed linen of other people.
- Avoid physical contact with anyone who has scabies.
- Use your own sheets/linen bag when travelling.
- Wear protective clothing (such as a long-sleeved t-shirt and gloves) when caring for someone who has scabies.
Scabies is diagnosed by examining flakes of skin under the microscope to check for mites and eggs. A doctor or dermatologist can do this.
Scabies is treated by taking ivermectin tablets or putting on permethrin cream. Your doctor will give you a prescription for this, but you can also buy it at the pharmacy. Since November 2022, the treatment is paid for through basic health insurance. The amount comes out of your excess. You should not just put on cream or take tablets, but also wash your clothing and bed linen at 60 °C or put it in a sealed bag for three days.
It is also very important that all members of your household and close contacts are treated at the same time as you, even if they don’t have any symptoms (yet). This is the only way to avoid getting scabies again.
Treat your child first. Your child can go to the day-care centre or school as usual 12 hours after treatment, but you must inform the director of the day-care centre or school. Your child may have gotten scabies at the day-care centre or school, or spread it to other children or employees. The director may ask the GGD for permission to inform other parents, so that these parents can check their children for symptoms of scabies.
No. Most children, pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding will get a prescription for a cream. Tell your doctor that you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Put the cream all over babies and young children, including their feet and between their toes. Do not put it on your baby’s cheeks unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
Itching usually goes away three days after treatment, but you may feel ‘post-itching’. Most of the time, this is not as serious as the original itching. It lasts a maximum of three to four weeks. Post-itching is more common in people who easily get eczema.
Take antihistamine tablets (tablets for itching) or use menthol powder or a greasy cream or lotion against the itching. If that does not help, you can contact your doctor or GP.
The treatment may not be successful. This can happen if the instructions have not been followed exactly. You could also get scabies again, for example because not all members of your household and close contacts have been treated. Contact your doctor and start the treatment again.
You can go to work as usual. If you have intensive skin-to-skin contact with other people at work regularly or for a long time, do not go to work until 12 hours after treatment. Always talk about this with your line manager or company doctor.
Yes, you can also get scabies from an animal, but this is a different type of itch mite. Every animal species has its own type of itch mite. These itch mites cannot survive in humans. Most of the time, they only cause itching and at most a slight skin rash. In animals, the symptoms go away on their own after a maximum of three weeks if there has been no further contact with the animal or if the animal has been treated. If you think your pet has scabies, take it to the veterinarian. The condition is also easy to treat in animals. Human mites cannot survive on a cat or dog.
Some people, like those in poor health, can get a more serious form of scabies. This form of scabies is called crusted or Norwegian scabies. It must be treated with more measures than regular scabies. A dermatologist must confirm this diagnosis.
Any other questions about scabies?
Ask the GGD’s infectious diseases department or your GP.
The GGD (Municipal Public Health Service) helps to fight scabies. If multiple people have scabies, the GGD can help to find the cause. The GGD can also help to find other people who have scabies and need treatment.