What Is Mange?

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Mange is the name of a category of skin conditions caused by microscopic parasites called mites in humans and animals. While most commonly associated with dogs, humans can also contract mange, which typically results in scabies or demodicosis.

Woman scratching neck

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Causes of Mange

While there are several different varieties of mites, the two that are typically responsible for mange in humans are:

  • Sarcoptes scabiei: Scabies mites
  • Demodex folliculorum: Mites that cause demodicosis

Here's how each type affects human health.

Sarcoptes Scabiei

Sarcoptes scabiei—better known as the scabies mite—can be transferred through contact with a domesticated animal (like a pet dog), or passed between humans. Human-to-human transmission of scabies mites is more common and requires direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies—the name of the skin condition caused by Sarcoptes scabiei.

This means that although scabies isn't confined to a particular geographic region, race, or class, it flourishes under crowded conditions involving close body contact. It is especially common in institutions like nursing homes, extended-care facilities, and prisons.

Scabies mites burrow into human skin, creating tunnels at least one centimeter in length, just below the surface, when they subsequently lay their eggs while feeding on human skin and secretions. In fact, the entire duration of a scabies mite's life—typically between 10-17 days—is spent on their human host. Without the human food source, scabies mites would likely only live for a few days. The burrowing and egg-laying are what cause scabies (the condition), which, in previously unexposed people, may go unnoticed for more than a month.

Demodex Folliculorum

Demodex folliculorum is one of two types of Demodex mites (Demodex brevis is the other) that live in or near hair follicles of mammals. Both species are found on humans, but Demodex folliculorum is the type of mite responsible for a human skin condition known as demodicosis.

Humans typically don't know when either type of Demodex mite is living on their skin, except when Demodex folliculorum mites are present in high densities on a person with an immune system imbalance and are transferred between hosts through contact involving hair, eyebrows, and/or sebaceous glands on the nose.

Once Demodex mites are attached to a human body, they mate in the person's follicle opening, and the female lays eggs inside the hair follicles or sebaceous glands. Once hatched, the mites typically have a 14-day life cycle, at the end of which they die, and then decompose inside the hair follicles or sebaceous glands. The presence of Demodex mites results in a skin condition known as demodicosis.

Symptoms of Mange

Both of the skin conditions caused by mange—scabies and demodicosis—have their own unique symptoms. Here's what to know.

Scabies

Even though it can take as long as a month for a person to realize they have scabies, the symptoms tend to hit hard and all at once, including severe irritation and itching—especially at night. In addition to intense itching (pruritus), the other common symptom of scabies is a pimple-like (papular) rash. The tricky part is that the scabies rash and lesions can also look very similar to other skin conditions, like dermatitis, eczema, contact dermatitis, fungal infections, and insect bites.

Scabies rashes and lesions can be found essentially anywhere on the human body, but are most frequently found:

  • Between the fingers
  • Wrist
  • Elbow
  • Armpit
  • Penis
  • Nipple
  • Belly button
  • Waist
  • Buttocks
  • Shoulder blades

In children, scabies may also turn up on the head, face, neck, palms, and soles of the feet—although these locations are not as common in adults with the condition.

The little tunnels that mites burrow under human skin can also be visible in certain parts of the body, including on webbing between the fingers, in the skin folds on the wrist, elbow, or knee, and on the penis, breast, or shoulder blades.

Demodicosis

Demodicosis can present in many different forms, including rosacea, dermatitis, and alopecia. It is most commonly found on the face, including the cheeks, nose, chin, forehead, temples, eyelashes, brows, scalp, neck, and ears. Less frequently, demodicosis may be located around a person's eyes, or in/on their back, chest, penis, mons pubis, buttocks, and/or labial folds. The most notable symptom is some type of rash, which can be itchy, dry, swollen, and reddish in color, and/or cause the skin to blister, ooze, crust, or flake off.

Treatment for Mange

Each form of mange also has its own treatments and prevention strategies.

Scabies

When a person gets scabies, there are two necessary steps: Decontamination and medication. If the person with scabies doesn't live alone, the other members of their household also need to be treated for the condition—especially those who have had prolonged direct skin-to-skin contact with the infested person, including (but not limited to) sexual activity.

The soft surfaces throughout the household—including bedding, clothing, and towels—need to be decontaminated. This can be done by washing them in hot water and drying them using the high setting on a dryer, sending them out to be dry-cleaned, or sealed in a plastic bag for at least 72 hours, after which point scabies mites typically can't live away from human skin. And as tempting as it may be to try to spray the mites away, using insecticide sprays or fumigants isn't recommended.

Currently, there are no over-the-counter medications that kill scabies mites, which are called scabicides. This means you'll have to consult your doctor in order to get a prescription for a scabicide that works. Once you have the medication, be sure to follow the instructions on the label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.

Demodicosis

Because Demodex mites can only live in the human hair follicle, making your follicles an unsuitable environment for the mites is the best way to prevent them from causing problems. You can do that by:

  • Washing your face twice a day with a non-soap cleanser
  • Avoiding oil-based cleansers and greasy makeup
  • Exfoliating periodically to remove dead skin cells

If you do end up with demodicosis, your doctor may prescribe topical insecticides—most commonly crotamiton cream, permethrin cream—as well as topical or systemic metronidazole.

A Word From Verywell

If you've made it this far in the post, there's a good chance that you've been scratching yourself just reading about mange in humans. No, mange in any form isn't a good time. But it's also not a consequence of doing something "wrong," and therefore shouldn't be stigmatized. Any human being has the potential to get mange—something to keep in mind if you or someone you know ends up with scabies or demodicosis.

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  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scabies - treatment. Updated October 31, 2018.