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Scabies in Children

What is scabies in children?

Scabies is an infestation of tiny mites on the skin. It causes a small red rash and intense itching. This infection is very contagious. It often spreads from child to child while children are sleeping together in the same bed or have close personal contact.

What causes scabies in a child?

Scabies is caused by very tiny mites that burrow into the upper layers of the skin. The mites live there and lay eggs that hatch a few days later.

Which children are at risk for scabies?

Anyone can get scabies, but it happens mostly in children and young adults. The greatest risk factor for getting scabies is coming in close contact with a person who has it. Other risk factors are overcrowded living conditions and poor hygiene.

What are the symptoms of scabies in a child?

It may take between 4 to 6 weeks for a child to get symptoms of scabies after coming in contact with an infected person.

In children younger than age 2, the rash caused by the mites tends to show up on the head, neck, palms, and soles. In older children, the rash is usually located on any of the following places:

  • Hands
  • Between the fingers
  • Wrists
  • Belt line
  • Thighs
  • Belly button
  • Groin area
  • Chest area
  • Armpits

These are the most common symptoms of scabies. But each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe itching
  • Rash with small pimples or red bumps. Sometimes burrows can be seen.
  • Scaly or crusty skin in the worst cases

How is scabies diagnosed in a child?

Your child's healthcare provider will look at your child’s skin and skin cracks to diagnose scabies. The provider may take a sample by scraping the skin. He or she will examine the skin under a microscope to check for mites.

How is scabies treated in a child?

Scabies is treatable, and usually all members in a family are treated at the same time. Overnight visitors, live-in help and frequent babysitters should also be treated. Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Using prescription creams and lotions such as permethrin
  • Taking medicines by mouth to kill the mites
  • Taking antihistamine medicine by mouth to help relieve itching
  • Using other medicines on the skin as needed

Cut your child's fingernails to help prevent infection. In addition, it is important to wash all clothes and bedding in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer. Clothing and other objects that can’t be washed should be placed in a plastic bag for at least 1 week. These items can include things like pillows and stuffed animals.

The itching may go on for many weeks after the initial treatment of the scabies. If scabies are still present after this time or if new burrows appear, call your child’s healthcare provider. Your child may need to be retreated.    

What are the possible complications of scabies in a child?

The intense itching caused by scabies can lead to bacterial infections such as impetigo. It can also cause thickening and scaling of the skin.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Scabies needs treatment. It is important that your child be examined for scabies. If your child has intense itching with a red rash, call his or her healthcare provider.

Key points about scabies in children

  • Scabies is an infestation of mites that happens mostly in children and young adults.
  • Scabies causes a rash with small red bumps and intense itching.
  • This highly contagious infection often spreads from child to child while children are sleeping together in the same bed or have close personal contact. 
  • It may take between 4 to 6 weeks for a child to develop symptoms of scabies after coming in contact with an infected person.
  • Scabies is treatable. Usually all members in a family and people with close contact with the family are treated at the same time.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Lehrer, Michael Stephen, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2018
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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