How to Prevent Scabies

Tips to avoid catching or spreading the skin condition

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If you or your child has been exposed to scabies, it's normal to feel anxious about the prospect of contracting it too. Just take a deep breath. There are some steps you can take to help prevent scabies.

General Prevention Tips

The best way to prevent scabies is to avoid having direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies. Obviously, this isn't always feasible. You may not know if someone has scabies. A person can have scabies for up to two months before they get the telltale itchy rash. During this time they can pass it along to others, before even knowing they have the condition themselves.

Even though you can't always avoid someone with scabies, there are other preventative steps you can take to minimize your chance of catching it.

Know Your Risk Factors

Children and those who take care of them are more at risk for catching scabies than others. So are those who live and work in nursing homes, dorms, camps, or any other communal living environments.

Scabies passes quickly throughout places where there are lots of people living in close physical contact with one another. Daycare centers and schools are other places where scabies can thrive.

If you live, work, or spend time at any of these places, and you develop an itchy red rash, have it checked out by a doctor ASAP.

Know Your Sexual Partners

Scabies is not a sexually transmitted disease per se, but sexual contact is actually a very common way to contract it simply because of the prolonged skin-to-skin contact. Minimizing the number of sexual partners you have can reduce your risk. Also, avoid having sex with your partner if they have an undiagnosed rash.

Call Your Doctor

If you think you were exposed, your doctor will give you guidance on what to do next. Depending on how much contact you've had with an infected person, your doctor may prescribe treatment and have you start right away, even if you don't have any signs of being infected yourself. This may be the case if your sexual partner has just been diagnosed with scabies.

If you or your child only had a casual interaction with the infected person, prophylactic treatment is typically unnecessary. Just watch for scabies symptoms.

If you or someone in your household gets an itchy, red rash, have it seen by a doctor ASAP. If it is scabies you'll want to treat it as quickly as possible to avoid having it spread to others. Anyone with scabies should stay home from school, daycare or work for one full day after treatment has started or as advised by your doctor.

Let Others Know

Yes, it may feel embarrassing, but remember that scabies has nothing to do with lack of cleanliness. Telling those you have come in contact with allows them to get treated, if needed, to protect themselves. It also helps protect you from possibly being reinfected by the same people initially infected by you.

Spreading Prevention Tips

Even if someone in your family has scabies, there are things you can do to help minimize its spread, preventing scabies from infecting the entire household.

Treat Everyone in the House at the Same Time

The best way to prevent scabies from spreading is to treat everyone in the family, even those who don't have an itchy rash. Because it can take weeks for the initial rash and itching to appear, you can have scabies and pass it to others long before you even realize you've been infected. By treating everyone at the same time it prevents the mites from being passed around (and around and around) the entire family.

Avoid Prolonged Skin-to-Skin Contact

This can be easier said than done when the infected person is, say, your baby or young child. You're going to come in close and prolonged contact with them just in the normal course of caring for them—when carrying, bathing, or rocking them to sleep, for example. This makes it even more important that you start on prophylactic treatment. Do the best you can in any case.

Do Your Laundry Immediately After Treatment

Wash the infected person's clothing, towels, and bedding (don't forget about comforters and duvets) in hot water. Dry on the hottest setting the article can stand. This will kill any mites that might be lingering in the bedding or clothes.

Bag Up What Can't Be Washed

Put unwashable items into a plastic bag and tie it up. Let the bag sit unopened for a week. Since the mites can only live off of the human body for about three days, any mites on the item will die off in the time it's bagged up. It's safe to use again after.

Don't Share Towels

The infected person should have their own bath towel and a hand towel that no one else uses until treatment is over.

Vacuum Carpeting and Furniture

When you're done vacuuming, throw away the vacuum cleaner bag (or thoroughly wash out the receptacle for a bagless vacuum).

Take Treatment Correctly

Don't skip treatments or stop treatment before the doctor gives you the OK. If just one person in the family doesn't finish their treatment, it can allow the mites to gain a foothold again and keep scabies passing along. If you have any questions about your scabies treatments, ask your doctor.

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