Scabies is a skin infection, popularly known as itch. It is caused by the mite sarcoptes scabiei or itch-mite. It is a contagious disease and is more common among people who live in crowded places under unhygienic conditions. The incidence of scabies is highest in children under the age of 15 years.
The disease is characterised by severe itching. It tends to be more marked in the night or after a hot bath. This is due to increased activity of the parasite because of the greater warmth generated in the body. The common sites for scabies are the genital areas, the spaces between the fingers, the front surface of the wrists, around the elbows, under the armpits, around the nipples, along the belt-line, and on the lower part of the buttocks. In infants, burrows are often present on the palms and soles. They may also be present on the trunk. The burrow made by the itchmite appears as a fine, wavy, dark line, if it can be seen at all. Often there is swelling, as well as scratch marks and local eczema over the irritated areas and this may cover up the tiny tunnels, so that they will not be seen. Infected individuals with good personal hygeine, usually have few lesions and burrows may be difficult to identify. Scabies should be suspected when the child is affected by intense itching in the body areas mentioned above.
The female itch-mite, measuring 0.4 mm., burrows under the outer layer of the skin and deposits her eggs along the tunnel, within a few days, the larvae hatch and then tend to congregate around the hair follicles of the skin. The disease is transmitted from person to person by close body contact, particularly among family members. Those who spend nights with friends or exchange clothing with others are at increased risk. Prolonged holding of hand is also a frequent means for spreading the disease.
As the disease is contagious, the suffering patient and all the affected members of the family should be treated simultaneously. The oldest and the most effective of treatments is the application of a paste, prepared by mixing two teaspoons of sublimed sulphur with either tablespoons of coconut oil. The whole body should be soaked for 20 minutes in a warm-bath using plenty of soap. Particular attention should be paid to the itching areas, scrubbing them thoroughly. After the bath, the sulphur paste, should be rubbed well over the entire skin surface, below the chin line, but particularly over the involved areas. This should be done for three successive nights, wearing the same under-clothing during this period. About 10 to 12 hours after the last application, a hot soap bath should be taken and a clean under-clothing and outside clothing should be worn. All clothes next to the skin, bed sheets, pillow cases should be boiled in hot water and occassionally sun-dried.
Another effective treatment is that of Benzyl Benzoate. After a warm soap bath, as mentioned above, a mixture of equal parts of soft soap, ethyl alcohol and benzyl benzote should be brushed for five minutes, while still wet. It should be allowed to dry and again painted for five minutes. After it dries, the same old clothes should be worn. A bath should be taken after 24 hours and clean clothing should be worn.
Benzyl-benzoate, being an irritant, should be diluted to half the strength, when treating scabies. Any of the other regimes can be used in the treatment of young children. If burrows are present on the head and neck areas in babies, these can be treated with topical Eurax cream.
During the period of treatment, the child should be given light foods, preferably fresh juicy fruits such as orange, apple, pineapple, pear, peaches, and melon. All steps should be taken to ensure regular bowel movements either by warm-wter anema or application of glycerine suppository.
Certain home remedies have been found beneficial in the treatment of scabies. The use of apricot (khubani) leaves is one such valuable remedy. Fresh juice of these leaves should be extracted and applied with beneficial results in scabies. Application of the juice of mint (pudina) over the affected areas has also proved valuable in treating this disease.
The use of bitter gourd (karela) has proved beneficial in the treatment of this disease. A quarter to half a cup of juice of this vegetable, depending on the age of the chld should be given mixed with half a teaspoon of lime juice. This juice should be sipped slowly on an empty stomach once daily for a week or so.
The flour of unroasted Bengal gram(besan) is a very effective cleansing agent. Washing the skin with this flour will be beneficial in treating scabies.