Scabies infections in babies: Do you know what to do?

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Scabies is not something that will go away on its own and has to be treated.

Has your child been scratching at her skin, especially in the night? Does she have a rough, pimply rash ? She could have scabies. Scabies in infants is a common itchy rash that can spread really fast. It is caused by tiny mites measuring half a millimetre in length called Sarcoptes scabiei and what these mites do is burrow and lay eggs inside the skin. 

Symptoms

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When a child is infested with scabies, it can take four to six weeks for the skin to react. Symptoms include:

  • Intense itching (especially at night)
  • Rashes that look like pimples
  • Scales or blisters
  • Sores (due to scratching)

In early stages, scabies in infants can be easily mistaken for something else because it looks similar to other types of rashes. Telltale signs include relentless itching and the appearance of track-like burrows in the skin. These tracks are usually greyish-white or skin-coloured. And they show where the female mites have burrowed, laying up to 10 - 25 eggs, just under the skin.

Favourite spots for scabies in infants include the head, neck, face, palms, and soles of the feet.

How Does Scabies in Infants Spread?

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A scabies outbreak can happen easily in daycare centres and nurseries where mites have ample chance to crawl from one person to another, be it from a caretaker or from infant to infant. Shared bedding, playmats or towels might also contribute to an outbreak, as well as crowded conditions. Scabies also spreads easily among family members too.

Can scabies in infants be caused by pets? No, they can't because the mites affecting canine and feline scabies are not caused by the same type of mite that infects humans. Mites from pets usually die off without causing any major harm.

If your baby has contracted scabies from daycare, it is important to notify the staff so that it can be contained. Other babies and caregivers that have been in contact with your little one will probably need to be treated as well, even if they haven't shown any symptoms yet.

Scabies mites can live up to two to three days on the surface of clothes, bedding, or towels. To make sure these mites are killed, wash any sheets and clothing used by the affected person within the past three days. Wash the items in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer, or take them to a dry-cleaner. Items that can't be washed should be placed in a sealed plastic bag for seven days.

Treating Scabies in Infants

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Scabies is not something that will go away on its own. It needs to be treated with prescription medication to kill the mites. 

According to NUH, the usual topical cream prescribed is Permethrin cream and Malathion liquid. Everyone has to be treated, and this includes you and the rest of your family, regardless of whether you are itchy or not. 

Two treatments, one week apart, are necessary to kill mites that have hatched from eggs after the first application. If you are concerned about your baby being given topical permethrin (5% cream), do not worry it is safe for infants above two months of age

The intense itch can make your baby cranky and irritable. An oral antihistamine or steroid cream might be given for relief. But to avoid sores, skin tearing and introducing infection, be sure to make them wear mittens and keep their fingernails short.

If the itching continues for more than four weeks or a new rash appears, consult a paediatrician. It may be necessary to reapply scabies medication.

Source: WebMD, NCBI