Scabies vs. Chiggers: What Are the Differences?

Scabies and chiggers are insect-like parasites that are difficult to spot with the naked eye. Both types of mites cause severe itching. But these pests have far more differences than they do similarities. Treatment for symptoms is different in each case.

This article will discuss both types of mites, symptoms, identification, causes, treatment, and prevention. 

Scabies mite on skin

SEBASTIAN KAULITZKI / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

What Are Scabies and Chiggers? 

Both scabies mites and chiggers are mites that can cause severe itching. Unlike scabies mites, chiggers don’t burrow into the skin. Like mosquitoes, chiggers pierce the skin and release a digestive enzyme that later causes human skin to itch.  

How They Spread 

People typically contract scabies via skin-to-skin contact. A quick touch isn’t enough to pass-on scabies, though. Prolonged contact is required to transmit an infestation. In some cases, scabies can be passed onto others through infected clothing or towels.

Some people are more likely to get scabies than others, including:

  • Children
  • Parents of young children
  • Sexually active people
  • People who work or live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • People with weakened immune systems 

Chiggers bite the skin but don’t burrow into it or remain on the skin, so they’re not contagious. For instance, you can’t get a bite from touching someone else’s bite or skin. 

Where You Find Them 

Scabies mites live on human skin and can’t typically survive for longer than three days without access to tissue for food. The exception is crusted scabies. When crusty skin falls off a person, mites can survive for up to a week by feeding on the left-behind tissue.

Unlike scabies mites, chiggers don’t live on the skin. You can find them in outdoor areas like berry bushes, woodlands, tall weeds, and grasses. They’re more common in the summer and fall.

Symptoms 

Scabies

Symptoms include:

  • Pus-filled bumps, often in young children
  • Red rash
  • Severe itching, usually at night
  • Skin crusting with crusted scabies 
  • Lines or burrows in the skin with a grayish tint
  • Infestations usually occur in skin folds 

Chigger Bites

Symptoms include:

  • Extreme itching that starts a few hours after being bitten 
  • Red pimple-like bumps
  • May also look like hives 
  • In sun-exposed areas of skin, a rash may appear

How to Identify Scabies and Chiggers Bites

Here’s how to tell if you have a chigger bite or scabies.

Where They Often Appear 

Commonly, scabies affects areas such as the:

  • Buttocks
  • Penis
  • Arms
  • Hands
  • Waistline
  • Nipple area
  • Skin covered by jewelry or clothing 

Chigger bites usually crop up on the feet and legs. 

Reaction Time 

A scabies rash may not appear until four to eight weeks after exposure in people who have not had scabies previously. However, they can spread scabies even when they don't have the rash. The rash can appear in one to four days in people who have already had scabies.

The itching usually starts a few hours after an initial chigger bite, which is painless. In some cases, itching can last a week or more.

Is Poor Hygiene an Issue?

Chigger bites have nothing to do with poor hygiene. The same goes for scabies. Anyone can get a chigger bite or contract scabies. It doesn’t mean they’re dirty or unclean. 

Treatment

Scabies

There’s no over-the-counter (OTC) treatment for scabies. You need a prescription scabicide to treat this skin condition. It’s essential to follow the application instructions carefully to ensure all the mites and their eggs get killed.

Chigger Bites 

Most chigger bites will resolve on their own, with itching going away after a day or so. Sometimes, the itching can last up to a week or more. Treatment for the symptoms typically consists of topical anti-itch products that you can purchase OTC.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

See a healthcare provider if you suspect you have scabies, either by having a rash or having had contact with someone with scabies. You will need treatment to stop the scabies infestation.

You should see a healthcare provider if you develop a skin infection from either scabies or a chigger bite. This can happen because of severe itching that causes repeated scratching. 

Prevention 

Scabies 

You can prevent scabies by avoiding skin-to-skin contact with anyone who has scabies. 

Other prevention strategies include:

  • Do not share towels or clothing with someone who has scabies or crusted scabies.
  • Wash bedding and other items in hot water to kill the mites. 
  • Store hard-to-wash items in sealed plastic bags for at least three days.
  • Clean and vacuum spaces where the infested person has been.

Chigger Bites 

You can avoid chigger bites by steering clear of areas known to host chiggers. Other ways to prevent bites include:

  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. 
  • Avoid sandals when walking in chigger-infested areas.
  • Take off and wash clothing when you get home from an outdoor excursion. 
  • Use insect repellent.

Summary 

Scabies and chiggers are mites that cause severe itching and discomfort. Both are microscopic and invisible to the naked eye. But while scabies mites burrow into the skin, chiggers live outdoors and only bite the skin without remaining on the skin. 

Treatment for scabies involves killing off the mites and soothing the rash. Treatment for a chigger bite involves treating the itching. 

A Word From Verywell 

Scabies and chiggers both cause uncomfortable symptoms like severe itching. But it’s important to note that exposure to either mite has nothing to do with your hygiene. While scabies takes a little longer to treat than a chiggers bite, both are treatable and rarely lead to complications. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are scabies and chiggers contagious?

    You can transmit scabies to someone through prolonged direct skin contact. But you can’t spread a chigger bite to someone else. 

  • Are mites and chiggers the same?

    Chiggers are the larvae stage of a type of mite. 

  • Are scabies and chiggers insects?

    No. Mites are arachnids (like spiders, ticks, and scorpions).

  • How can you tell if you have chiggers or scabies?

    A red pimple-like bump is the main sign of a chigger bite. Where you’ve been walking or spending time may provide some insight into what caused your bite.

    Scabies causes a red skin rash; and sometimes, tunnel-like streaks may appear on the skin's surface. 

  • How can you get rid of scabies instantly?

    You can’t. You need prescription treatment to treat scabies. 

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. Chiggers

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scabies frequently asked questions (FAQs).

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Scabies: who gets and causes.

  4. Mount Sinai. Chiggers

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Scabies: signs and symptoms.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Treatment

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Scabies