Scabies (Sarcoptes scabiei) is caused by small mites that penetrate into the skin. These mites are too small to see. If you have scabies, the skin becomes very itchy and irritated . Scratching the infected area promotes spreading off eggs to other parts of your body. The onset of itchiness is quite sudden when scabies are contracted.

Scabies and animals

Animals do not get the same kind of scabies as humans. However, humans can get the scabies (or mange) mite from animals such as dogs or horses. When humans come in close contact with animals infected, these mites can penetrate under the skin. The mites cause skin to be itchy and irritated for a while, but the mite will die in a few days. The mite is unable to reproduce on the human body. Scabies from animals do not create ‘burrows’ on human skin.


Apart from being very itchy, symptoms can also include:

  • Bumpy rash
  • Lesions and spots on the skin filled with fluid
  • Small ‘burrows’ in the skin particularly between the fingers.


  • Calamine lotion can be applied to the irritated area to manage the itching.
  • A lotion or cream can be purchased from the chemist to treat scabies. Instructions should be followed carefully. Your partner and family members should also be treated.
  • Wash clothes, bedding and towels in hot water.
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women and children should see a doctor before using any over the counter medications.

How it is spread

Scabies is spread by:

  • Skin to skin contact
  • Infected bed linen or clothes (scabies mites can live for a few days away from their human or animal hosts.


The best way to prevent infection is to maintain good personal hygiene like regular hand washing and not sharing clothes or bedding with infected people.

Scabies is caused by small mites called Sarcoptes scabiei that penetrate into the skin. The skin reacts to the mites, causing red itching bumps or blisters to form. If you develop scabies, your sexual partners and all members of your household should also be treated with a scabies cream or lotion.

Find out more about this topic on Better Health Channel

References used for this topic page

More information:
Australasian College of Dermatologists
Department of Health (Vic)
Patient UK (UK)
Clinical care:

Fast facts:


  • Scabies is caused by tiny mites that penetrate into the skin.
  • Infected skin becomes very itchy and scratching spreads the eggs to other parts of your body.
  • Infected farm animals can pass on scabies (or mange) mites to people. These mites are specific to the animal they come from and will not breed on human skin, but they will make your skin itchy and irritated for a few days.
  • Scabies can be treated with lotions or creams from a chemist.

Last updated: 1st December, 2016