Scabies, also known as sarcoptic mange and colloquially known as the itch, is a contagious ectoparasitic skin infection characterized by superficial burrows and intense pruritus (itching). It is caused by the mite ''Sarcoptes scabiei''.
The word ''scabies'' itself is derived from the Latin word (''scabere'') for "scratch". More severe forms of scabies include crusted scabies and Norwegian scabies.
Scabies is impressively egalitarian in its epidemiology.
Mites are distributed around the world, affecting all ages, races and
socioeconomic classes in all different climates.
Adult females of Sarcoptes scabiei mites are 0.30-0.45 mm long by 0.25-0.35 mm wide; males are smaller at 0.20-0.24 mm long by 0.15-0.20 mm wide. Adults live in the skin and are usually found in skin scrapings.
Globally there is an estimated incidence of 300 million
cases of scabies per year, 1 million of which occur in the United
The first recorded reference to scabies is believed to be
from the Bible (Leviticus, the third book of Moses) ca. 1200 BC. Later,
the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle reported on “lice” that would
“escape from little pimples if they are pricked” in the fourth century
BC; scholars believe this was actually a reference to scabies.
Nevertheless it was the Roman physician Celsus who is
credited with designating the term “scabies” to the disease and
describing its characteristic features.
The mites that cause scabies in animals cannot reproduce on
the human body. Humans are especially susceptible to small dogs carrying
the mites. Recent outbreaks have started to reach epidemic proportions.
The most frequently diagnosed form is sarcoptic mange in
dogs. In dogs and other animals, scabies produces severe itching and
secondary skin infections.
Affected animals often lose weight and become unthrifty.
Sarcoptes is a genus of skin parasites and part of the larger family of
mites collectively known as “scab mites”.
They are also related to the scab mite Psoroptes that
infests the skin of domestic animals. Sarcoptic mange affects domestic
animals and similar infestations in domestic fowls causes the disease
known as “scabies leg”.
The effects of Sarcoptes scabiei are the most well known,
causing “scabies”, or “the itch”. The adult female mite, having been
fertilised, burrows into the skin, usually the hands or wrists, and then
lays her eggs. Other parts of the body may also be affected.
Scabies has been observed on non-domestic animals as well.
Gorillas, for instance, are known to be susceptible to infection via
contact with items used by humans.
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011