Scabies: a review of diagnosis and management based on mite biology

Pediatr Rev. 2012 Jan;33(1):e1-e12. doi: 10.1542/pir.33-1-e1.


Scabies is a contagious parasitic dermatitis that is a significant cause of morbidity, especially outside of the United States. Scabies is diagnosed most often by correlating clinical suspicion with the identification of a burrow. Although scabies should be on the differential for any patient who presents with a pruritic dermatosis, clinicians must consider a wide range of diagnostic possibilities. This approach will help make scabies simultaneously less over- and underdiagnosed by clinicians in the community. Atypical or otherwise complex presentations may necessitate the use of more definitive diagnostic modalities, such as microscopic examination of KOH prepared skin scrapings, high-resolution digital photography, dermoscopy, or biopsy. Scabies therapy involves making the correct diagnosis, recognizing the correct clinical context to guide treatment of contacts and fomites, choosing the most effective medication, understanding how to use the agent properly, and following a rational basis for when to use and reuse that agent. Although the development of new therapeutic agents is always welcome, tried and true treatments are still effective today. Permethrin is the gold standard therapy, with malathion being an excellent topical alternative. Ivermectin is an effective oral alternative that is especially useful in crusted scabies, patients who are bed ridden, and in institutional outbreaks. Despite the availability of effective therapeutics, treatment failures still occur, mostly secondary to application error (ie, failure to treat the face and scalp or close contacts, failure to reapply medication) or failure to decontaminate fomites. Because increasing resistance to scabies treatments may be on the horizon, we propose that standard of care for scabies treatment should involve routine treatment of the scalp and face and re-treating patients at day 4 on the basis of the scabies life cycle to ensure more efficient mite eradication. Practitioners should attempt to treat all close contacts simultaneously with the source patient. To eradicate mites, all fomites should be placed in a dryer for 10 minutes on a high setting, furniture and carpets vacuumed, and nonlaunderables isolated for a minimum of 2 days, or, for those who wish to be rigorous, 3 weeks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / therapeutic use*
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Sarcoptes scabiei / growth & development
  • Scabies / complications
  • Scabies / diagnosis*
  • Scabies / drug therapy
  • Skin / parasitology*


  • Insecticides