Scabies is caused by a tiny insect known as a mite which digs under the skin and lays eggs. Small blisters grow on the skin above each egg and the skin gets very itchy.


Key points to remember about scabies

  • scabies is caused by a tiny insect known as a mite which digs under the skin and lays eggs
  • small blisters grow on the skin above each egg and the skin gets very itchy
  • the redness and small blisters look like a rash on the skin
  • the scabies rash may start anywhere but it is usually between fingers, on wrists, inside the elbow, around the waist, on the bottom or genitals and under armpits

If your child has scabies, keep them at home until at least one day after treatment with scabies cream.

What are the signs and symptoms of scabies?

Baby with scabies

Child's hand with scabies

One of the first symptoms of scabies is a very itchy rash. This is usually worse when your child is warm, in bed, after a shower etc.

Symptoms usually start 3 to 6 weeks after getting the scabies mite. But, if you've had scabies before, the rash can start after only 1 to 3 days.

The scabies rash looks like lots of small blisters surrounded by red patches.

The most common places for the rash are between your child's fingers and toes, on their wrists, inside their elbows, around their waist, on their bottom or genitals.

Children often get a rash all over their body.

Talk to your family doctor, a nurse or a pharmacist if you think your child might have scabies.

What do I do if my child has scabies?

Go to your doctor, school nurse or public health nurse

Scabies will not go away without treatment.

Go to a doctor or call the school nurse or public health nurse to get a scabies cream to kill the mites. If your child is under 2 years old, they may need a different treatment so make sure you check with your doctor or nurse

Treat everyone in the household

Get enough scabies cream to treat everyone in the household. Everyone should be treated even if they don't have a rash or itch.

Cream for everyone on the same day

Apply scabies cream to everyone in the family or household on the same day.

Apply cream all over

The scabies cream has to go all over the body, from head to toe - including the soles of feet.

Leave overnight

The scabies cream must be left on overnight.

Wash linen in hot water

On the same day as putting the scabies cream on everyone you also need to wash all sheets, pillow cases, towels and clothes in hot water - or you need to put these things into a sealed plastic bag for 5 days to kill the mites. If you don't do these things, the mites will reinfect your family.

Hang blankets outside

Hang quilts, duvets and blankets outside for a day so the sun can kill any mites.

Check all family members

Check other family members for scabies.

What do I do if my child's scabies gets worse?

Once you have killed the scabies mites with the scabies cream, the sores or the rash will stop growing but it will still be itchy for up to 4 weeks.

The sores and rash can become infected.

Go to the doctor if the sores or rash get redder, warm, start swelling or have pus. This could mean the sores are getting infected (cellulitis).

Read about cellulitis

You may also need to repeat the treatment of the whole family with the scabies cream.

If your child's scabies has turned to cellulitis, your child may need blood tests and antibiotics.

It is important to take the antibiotics every day until they are finished, even if the scabies has cleared up earlier. The antibiotics need to keep killing the infection in the body after the skin has healed.

How is scabies spread?

Scabies is spread by skin contact with the infected person, and sharing sheets and clothes.

Should I keep my child home from kura or school if they have scabies?

Your child should stay at home until at least one day after treatment with the scabies cream.

This page last reviewed 03 August 2018.

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