by Major M. P. Vora

The Home Doctor
A practical guide to good health

Vol. I, No. 6 of October 1962

Page No. 51 and 52



Scabies is an intensely itchy disease of the skin due to an animal parasite, the itch-mite or Saroptes Scabiei. It is common in the inmates of insanitary hotels, boarding homes, prisons and school children. Lack of cleanliness and unhygienic conditions often predispose to this disease.



There are several races of mites on domestic animals such as horse, dog and cat that frequently associate with men. The parasite burrows in the epidermis and the female lays eggs, which hatch in 4 to 6 days depending on temperature and humidity. The female mite can be picked up from the opposite end of the burrow for examination. It looks like a tiny white almost invisible granule which can be identified under a microscope.



A healthy person acquires the infection from the infected person or contaminated objects such as clothing or bedding of an infected animal. It is often caught in the course of sexual relations among the unclean persons.



‘Violent itching worse at night’ is the chief complaint. Itching, being nocturnal, keeps the sufferer awake. On careful examination characteristic burrows can be seen on the site of infection. More the burrows, the greater is the intensity of itching. Eruption follows itching and may consist of papules, vesicles and pustules.



The skin of the opposed surface of the fingers and toes, the inner side of the hands, the front of the wrists, genitals, buttocks and the area between the nipples in the females, and arm-pits.


The face, the head, the neck and the back are usually not effected.



To recognize the itch in its simple form is not at all difficult. But to get the itch in the simple or uncomplicated form is the exception. For, scratching always leads to secondary infection and produces lesions which obscure the true character of the disease. Thus one may get pustules, eczema-like condition and septic or enlarged lymph nodes. However, typical grouping of the lesions, intense itching ay night and multiform nature of the eruption at once arouse one’s suspicion. Picking up the itch- mite and its identification under a microscope decides the issue.


Other diseases which might resemble the itch are syphilitic skin rash, body louse, crab louse, beehive or nettle rash and fungus infection of the skin.



It is aimed at the complete destruction of all the parasites and their eggs infecting the skin, and effective disinfection of the articles of clothing and bedding that may have been contaminated. All the members of the family or the group need to be called for the examination and treatment if found to be affected, at the same time.



After a thorough bath with soap and warm water, devoting over half hour, breaking open the burrows by use of a nail brush, drying the body with a soft towel, sulphur ointment, (5%, 2 ½% and 1 ¼% respectively for adults, children and infants) is thoroughly and carefully applied from the neck to the soles of the feet on three successive days, special care being taken of the sites of selection. On the fourth day, old clothing is discarded, a hot bath with soap and water is taken and new clothing is used. Contaminated clothing is sent for disinfection, either by dry heat or by boiling. Neglect of this precaution is likely to re-infect the person.



After a good bath with soap and warm water, as in the last method, Benzyl Benzoate emulsion 20 to 25% is applied from the neck to the soles and is allowed to dry for 20 to 30 minutes. Only one application is enough in most cases.


It is advisable to repeat the application after a week’s interval to make certain of the complete eradication of the mite and its eggs. If there is secondary infection and pus formation, use of sulpha drugs or penicillin is recommended in addition to local application.



Cotton clothing is best disinfected by boiling. Woolen clothes are soaked in a strong antiseptic lotion for about six hours and afterwards washed in cold water, and then ironed. Use of D.D.T. spray or powder may be done for the purpose.



Keep away from the infected persons, animals or articles of clothing. Have a good bath with soap and water daily. Keep your articles of clothing clean and washed regularly. Maintain personal hygiene at a very high level. Avoid interchange of clothing. Have a regular inspection of the body.