A common cause of generalised itching is scabies — a condition which is easy to catch. Scabies is due to a tiny mite about half a millimetre in size. It burrows under the skin, lays its eggs and dies. When the eggs hatch, tiny mites are released and travel over the skin. The condition causes intense itching and sometimes a rash.
The scabies mite prefers tender, protected areas such as wrists, between the fingers, folds of the armpit and elbow, the groin and the creases of the bottom.
The mites spread from person-to-person by close skin-to-skin contact. This is why children with scabies should be kept home from school. Sometimes the mites spread through clothing or bedding. Whole families are often affected.
It can be very difficult to find the scabies mites, but sometimes tiny lines in the skin — made when the mite burrows — are seen and give a clue to the diagnosis.
Treatment consists of having a thorough wash in a bath or shower, using a soft scrubbing brush in the skin folds. After drying off, the entire body from the neck down is covered with a special lotion or cream, most commonly containing permethrin 5 per cent. This is left on for 8 to 24 hours (depending on the type of lotion used), and then washed off. All bedding and clothes worn next to the skin should be washed as well, or ironed or put in a hot clothes dryer. Even if they do not appear to be affected, all members of the household should undergo treatment at the same time.
Last Reviewed: 20 February 2013