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 States.
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: Oct 8, 2014