Scabies is caused by a tiny 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 about scabies

  • scabies is caused by a reaction to a tiny mite which digs under the skin and lays eggs
  • small blisters grow on the skin and the skin gets very itchy
  • the redness and small blisters look like a rash on the skin
  • the scabies rash may start anywhere and can happen to anyone 
  • everyone in the house needs treatment at the same time to get rid of scabies

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

What causes scabies?

Scabies is caused by a reaction to tiny mites that are so small you can't see them. Mites are a type of insect. The mites burrow under the skin surface and lay eggs as they go. The skin rash is a reaction to the mites, the mite poo, and the mite eggs. 

How does scabies spread?

Anyone can get scabies. It is more common when lots of people are in close contact. Washing with soap doesn't stop it.

Scabies spread from one person to another by skin to skin contact, and by sharing bedding, clothing or towels used by a person with scabies. 

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.

Not all people with scabies will be itchy. So people can spread scabies even if they don't have symptoms. 

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 or lotion 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.

The most common cream or lotion is called permethrin.

Treat everyone in the household

Get enough scabies cream or lotion 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 or lotion to everyone in the family or household on the same day, just before going to bed.

Apply cream all over

The scabies cream or lotion has to go all over the body, from head to toe - including the soles of the feet. Be careful to cover between toes and fingers, armpits, tummy button, genitals and buttocks.

Leave overnight

The scabies cream must be left on overnight, for at least 8 hours. If you wash your hands overnight, put more cream or lotion on your hands.

Wash linen in hot water

On the morning after putting the scabies cream or lotion 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 7 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 or lotion, the sores or the rash will stop growing but it will still be itchy for up to 4 weeks.

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

Occasionally, scabies can be resistant to treatment with the cream or lotion. If you have done 2 treatments with the cream, ask your doctor if a different kind of treatment is needed.

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

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 28 October 2021.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it