Background: Scabies is an intensely itchy parasitic infection of the skin caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. It is a common public health problem with an estimated global prevalence of 300 million cases. Serious adverse effects have been reported for some drugs used to treat scabies.
Objectives: To evaluate topical and systemic drugs for treating scabies.
Search strategy: In February 2007, we searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register, CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 1), MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS, and INDMED. In March 2007, we also searched the grey literature and sources for registered trials. We also checked the reference lists of retrieved studies.
Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials of drug treatments for scabies.
Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. Results were presented as relative risks with 95% confidence intervals and data combined where appropriate.
Main results: Twenty small trials involving 2392 people were included. One trial was placebo controlled, 16 compared two or more drug treatments, two compared treatment regimens, and one compared different drug vehicles.Fewer treatment failures occurred by day seven with oral ivermectin in one small trial (55 participants). Topical permethrin appeared more effective than oral ivermectin (85 participants, 1 trial), topical crotamiton (194 participants, 2 trials), and topical lindane (753 participants, 5 trials). Permethrin also appeared more effective in reducing itch persistence than either crotamiton (94 participants, 1 trial) or lindane (490 participants, 2 trials). One small trial did not detect a difference between permethrin (a synthetic pyrethroid) and a natural pyrethrin-based topical treatment (40 participants). No significant difference was detected in the number of treatment failures between crotamiton and lindane (100 participants, 1 trial), lindane and sulfur (68 participants, 1 trial), benzyl benzoate and sulfur (158 participants, 1 trial), and benzyl benzoate and natural synergized pyrethrins (240 participants, 1 trial); all were topical treatments. No trials of malathion were identified. No serious adverse events were reported. A number of trials reported skin reactions in participants randomized to topical treatments. There were occasional reports of headache, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, and hypotension.
Authors' conclusions: Topical permethrin appears to be the most effective treatment for scabies. Ivermectin appears to be an effective oral treatment. More research is needed on the effectiveness of malathion, particularly when compared to permethrin, and on the management of scabies in an institutional setting and at a community level.