scabies in children:
symptoms and treatment

Sorry, folks: this is a yucky one. We need to have a little talk about scabies – the contagious skin condition caused by tiny little mites that burrow into your little one's skin. Here's everything you need to (but wish you didn't have to) know about scabies.

baby with scabies

what are the symptoms of scabies?

The word 'scabies' comes from a Latin word that means 'to scratch', so no prizes for guessing what the main symptom is. You'll notice lots of itchy red bumps, scattered across baby's skin, caused by these feisty scabies mites.

The mites love warm and moist places so you'll notice them more between fingers, around the genitals and bottom, or underneath your little one's fingernails. You might see thin red lines too, where the mites have burrowed a tunnel, as well as little pimples and blisters scattered across the rash.

baby with scabies on their feet
baby with scabies on their feet

when should i ring the doctor?

It's best to make an appointment with your child's GP as soon as you can: the sooner your little one is treated, the less likely they are to pass the scabies to anyone else. Everyone in your household will need to be treated, even if baby's the only one showing any symptoms.

If you've never had scabies before, four to six weeks can go by before any symptoms appear. Treating everyone at once reduces the chance of reinfection. Scabies is usually treated with a lotion, but your doctor will be able to give you more advice.

what causes scabies?

These mites like to dig their way under the skin, laying eggs and doing their business as they go. This can set off an allergic reaction, making your little one itch like crazy. It's usually spread through skin-to-skin contact, so it's not surprising that outbreaks are quite common in schools and nurseries.

It's also more common during winter, since we spend more time inside snuggling up on the couch under blankets and jumpers. Because it's contagious, it's worth ringing round everyone you or your child have come into contact with recently to give them a heads up.

can i cure scabies at home?

You can buy lotions over-the-counter to treat scabies, and your pharmacist will be able to advise you on which one to go for. It's always best to go to the doctor first, as they might be able to offer some alternative and more effective suggestions.

The scabies lotion is usually left on the skin for eight to 24 hours, then it will need to be reapplied around a week later to mop up any mites that hatched in the meantime. Putting all of your linens, towels, and pyjamas through a boil wash after treatment is also a thorough way of banishing these itchy critters.

are there any complications to look out for?

One serious complication to look out for is Norwegian (or crusted) scabies. This isn't itchy, but the signs instead include lots of scabby warts developing all over the body. This is caused by a larger infestation, and is more common in young babies as well as people with compromised immune systems.

As well as treating it the usual way, your doctor might give your little one a medicine called ivermectin to kill the mites. You'll need to give your carpets, sofas, and other soft furnishings a good going over with the vacuum cleaner too, just to be on the safe side.