Health Encyclopedia

Scabies in Children

What is scabies?

Scabies is an infestation of tiny bugs called mites on the skin. It causes a small red rash and intense itching. This infection is very contagious. It often spreads from child to child while children are sleeping together in the same bed or have close personal contact.

What causes scabies?

Scabies is caused by very tiny mites that burrow into the upper layers of the skin. The mites live there and lay eggs that hatch a few days later.

Who is at risk for scabies?

Anyone can get scabies, but it happens mostly in children and young adults. The greatest risk factor for getting scabies is coming in close contact with a person who has it. Other risk factors are overcrowded living conditions and poor hygiene.

What are the symptoms of scabies?

It may take between 4 to 6 weeks for a child to get symptoms of scabies after coming in contact with an infected person.

In children younger than age 2, the rash caused by the mites tends to show up on the head, neck, palms, and soles. In older children, the rash is usually located on any of the following places:

  • Hands
  • Between the fingers
  • Wrists
  • Belt line
  • Thighs
  • Belly button
  • Groin area
  • Chest area
  • Armpits

These are the most common symptoms of scabies. But each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe itching
  • Rash with small pimples or red bumps. Sometimes burrows can be seen.
  • Scaly or crusty skin in the worst cases

How is scabies diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will look at your child’s skin and skin cracks to diagnose scabies. The provider may take a sample by scraping the skin. He or she will examine the skin under a microscope to check for mites.

How is scabies treated?

Scabies is treatable, and usually all members in a family are treated at the same time. Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Using prescription creams and lotions such as permethrin
  • Taking antihistamine medicine by mouth to help relieve itching
  • Using other medicines on the skin as needed

In addition, it is important to wash all clothes and bedding in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer. Clothing and other objects that can’t be washed should be placed in a plastic bag for at least 1 week. These items can include things like pillows and stuffed animals.

The itching may go on for many weeks after the initial treatment of the scabies. If scabies are still present after this time or if new burrows appear, call your child’s healthcare provider. Your child may need to be retreated.    

What are the possible complications of scabies?

The intense itching caused by scabies can lead to bacterial infections such as impetigo. It can also cause thickening and scaling of the skin.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Scabies needs treatment. It is important that your child be examined for scabies. If your child has intense itching with a red rash, call his or her healthcare provider.

Key points about scabies

  • Scabies is an infestation of mites that happens mostly in children and young adults.
  • Scabies causes a rash with small red bumps and intense itching.
  • This highly contagious infection often spreads from child to child while children are sleeping together in the same bed or have close personal contact. 
  • It may take between 4 to 6 weeks for a child to develop symptoms of scabies after coming in contact with an infected person.
  • Scabies is treatable. Usually all members in a family are treated at the same time.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.


Medical Reviewers:

  • Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
  • Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP