Scabies In Kids: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

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Scabies in kids is a parasitic infection caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabei var hominis. The mite creates burrows in the human skin for reproduction. When affected by Sarcoptes, the skin turns hypersensitive, and the body’s immune response gives rise to uncomfortable, itchy rashes and blisters on the skin (1). Scabies spread quickly in public places, making children more susceptible to it. Thus, even if one child catches scabies in the neighborhood or school, it puts the other children and their families at the risk of contracting it.

Read on to know about causes, risk factors, symptoms, complications, treatment for scabies in children, and the preventative measures to avoid the spread of infection.

Is Scabies Contagious?

Yes, scabies is a highly contagious disease that spreads through skin-to-skin contact. Thus, children who come into contact with a child who has the infestation at schools or child care centers are at a high risk of getting the infestation (2).

A child could also get scabies by sharing clothes, utensils, bed linens, or even toys with another child who has the infestation. The mites could survive on non-living items for two to three days. Thus, even one person with scabies can cause a scabies outbreak in an area (3).

What Are The Causes And Risk Factors For Scabies?

Scabies is a skin infestation caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei var hominis. The scabies mites bury themselves under the skin to lay eggs. This scabies infestation triggers the body’s immune system and causes itches and bumps on the skin (4) (5).

All children are at risk for scabies as they tend to be in group settings. Poor hygiene and overcrowded living conditions also pose a risk for scabies. Children with compromised immunity may show a severe reaction towards it (3) (5) (6).

What Are The Symptoms Of Scabies?

Itchy rashes, pimples, and blisters are the common symptoms of scabies. The symptoms of scabies may appear four to six weeks after the child comes into contact with an infected person.

The common itchy and affected regions for scabies in children include the following (2).

  • Between the fingers
  • Armpits
  • Wrists
  • Abdomen; primarily near the belt-line and belly button
  • Thighs
  • Chest area
  • Groin area
  • Hands
  • Buttocks
  • Back of the knees
  • Private parts

The itching sensation may increase at night or after a hot water bath.

In some rare cases, crusted scabies, which are characterized by widespread scale and crust, may be seen in children with a weak immune system. Children with crusted scabies require immediate medical care (1).

What Are The Complications Of Scabies?

The intense itch caused by the scabies rash could lead to severe skin sores. Also, untreated scabies may attract several bacteria, particularly Staphylococcus aureus. This can lead to skin infections such as sepsis of the skin. In addition, if left unchecked, scabies could cause post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis and rheumatic heart disease (1) (7).

How Is Scabies Diagnosed?

The diagnosis for scabies involves a physical examination followed by a microscopic analysis of the skin. Your child’s healthcare provider may scrape the skin a little (it is a painless procedure) to screen them under a microscope and determine the presence of mites and their eggs (2).

What Is The Treatment For Scabies?

Effective treatment for scabies primarily focuses on killing the parasite while simultaneously healing the skin. A Scabicide cream, primarily Permethrin (5%), is usually prescribed for scabies in children older than two months of age. Other common medications administered for scabies include crotamiton cream (10%), benzyl benzoate lotion (25%), sulfur ointment (5-10%), and lindane lotion (1%).

The healthcare provider may also prescribe antibiotics and antihistamines to fight bacterial infection and help the child manage the itch (8) (9) (10).

Can Scabies Be Prevented?

Scabies is a highly contagious parasitic infestation. So, preventing it altogether may not be possible. Nevertheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the following measures to reduce the spread of scabies among children (11).

  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
  • Machine-wash all the clothes and bed linens used three days before the diagnosis of scabies. Ensure that these items are hot-water washed separately and dry-cleaned.
  • Seal non-washable items such as soft toys in a plastic bag and leave them for three days to starve the mites.
  • Do not send children with scabies to school for about a week.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Where does scabies usually start?

Scabies usually develops in the body crevices, such as the beltline and the area around the nipples, penis, and buttocks (12).

2. Can scabies go away on their own?

No, scabies does not resolve on its own but requires treatment to stop the spread and alleviate the symptoms (13).

Scabies in children is treatable. However, you must note that even a single person in a family who comes into contact with an infested person could bring the scabies mite into the house. Hence, the entire family should begin treatment simultaneously to avoid the spread despite no symptoms. And if your child has scabies, ensure they do not go to school or public places for a week.

Key Pointers

  • Scabies is a mite-caused infection that presents with typical itchy rashes and blisters in various body parts of a child.
  • Topical creams and ointments are effective in treating scabies.
  • If left untreated, scabies could lead to serious conditions, like sepsis.
  • To prevent scabies, seal soft toys in plastic bags to starve mites, avoid contact with infected people, and do not let your child out if they are diagnosed with scabies.


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Sindusha MS

Sindusha is a clinical nutritionist with over two years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She did her Masters in Food Science and Nutrition from Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women and has qualified UGC-NET. She interned as a quality control analyst and as a dietitian during her graduation. She was a part of several... more

Dr. Arva M Bhavnagarwala

Dr. Arva Bhavnagarwala has completed her post-graduation from Masina Hospital in Mumbai. She has worked at Jaslok Hospital and Research Center as a Clinical Associate. Currently, she practices Pediatrics at her private clinic in South Mumbai and is attached to Masina Hospital as a consultant pediatrician. Dr. Bhavnagarwala is a National Advisory Board Member of Indian Pediatrics, the official publication... more