Sarcoptes scabiei (scabies or mites) is a common skin condition caused by the human itch mite. These mites burrow under the top layer of the skin and lay eggs. This infestation leads to relentless itching and an angry rash.

Q: How do I know if I have mites?

A: Mites are not visible to the human eye. A dermatologist can identify them by examining your skin, looking for signs of mites, including the characteristic burrows. When your doctor locates a mite burrow, he or she might take a scraping from that area of your skin to examine under a microscope. The microscopic examination can determine the presence of mites or their eggs.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: You’ll experience itching, often severe and usually worse at night, and thin, irregular burrow tracks made up of tiny blisters or bumps on your skin. If you’ve had scabies before, signs and symptoms may develop within a few days of exposure. If you’ve never had scabies, it can take as long as six weeks for signs and symptoms to begin. You can still spread scabies even if you don’t have any signs or symptoms yet.

Q: How do you get mites?

A: Physical contact and sharing clothes or bed linens with someone can cause the infection. Mites may also come from stays in hospitals and nursing homes, and child care facilities. It’s very hard to get scabies from quick, casual touching, like handshakes or hugs. You also can’t get scabies from toilet seats.

Q: Are mites contagious?

A: Yes, very! Since mites are so contagious, people who you live with or have close contact will need to be treated as well.

Q: What can you do to treat mites?

A: Scabies can be readily treated. While they can be really uncomfortable, they are typically not dangerous. They can be cured with prescription medicated creams or pills. You might still have some itching for several weeks after treatment.

Q: What can be done in addition to the treatment?

A: Mites can survive a few days without contact to human skin. After treatment, you’ll need to wash all clothing, bedding, towels, and other items, and you should also vacuum carpeting, area rugs and all upholstered furniture.

Q: How long does it take to get rid of scabies?

A: Usually scabies will be gone as soon as you’re done with the treatment. Depending on how serious your scabies outbreak is, you may need to treat it again, and you’ll also need to repeat your treatment if new burrows and/or a rash appear.

Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.