One way you can get scabies is if you’ve been in close physical contact with another person who has it. That close physical contact could happen when you live in the same household or have sex with someone who has scabies.

In some cases, contact can be as brief as 10 minutes.

While scabies can be spread through sexual contact, it’s usually passed through nonsexual skin-to-skin contact. Less frequently, it can also be passed indirectly through contact with contaminated furniture, clothing, or linens such as bedding.

Read on to learn more about how scabies is spread and how long it’s contagious.

Yes, scabies is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) because it can be acquired through sexual contact or close body contact with someone with the infection. It’s also sometimes confused with pubic lice because both conditions cause similar symptoms.

But unlike other sexually transmitted infections, condoms, dental dams, and other barrier methods aren’t effective against scabies. If you or your partner has scabies, you’ll both need to get treated to avoid transmitting the condition back to each other. You will also need to launder clothing, bedding, and other fabrics.

Scabies is typically spread by direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has scabies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contact usually needs to be prolonged to spread scabies. This means that you’re unlikely to get it from a quick hug or handshake.

This kind of close contact tends to happen among people in the same household or in:

  • nursing homes and extended care facilities
  • hospitals
  • classrooms
  • daycares
  • dorms and student residences
  • gym and sports lockers
  • prisons
  • refugee camps

In addition, sharing personal items that come into contact with your skin, such as clothing, towels, and bedding, can also spread scabies to others in some cases. But this is more likely in cases of crusted scabies, a type of scabies that can affect people who have a weakened immune system.

How long is scabies contagious?

Scabies can be contagious until it is successfully treated.

If you’ve never had scabies before, your symptoms might take 4 to 8 weeks to start appearing. But if you’ve had scabies before, you’ll typically get symptoms within a few days. Scabies is contagious, even before you notice symptoms.

Most people have 10 to 15 mites at a time. These mites cause scabies and can live on a person for as long as 1 to 2 months. Eggs laid by female mites hatch 2 to 3 weeks later.

The mites should begin to die within a few hours of applying the scabies treatment to your skin.

Once scabies is treated, the rash you initially get from scabies may continue for 3 or 4 more weeks. If you still have a rash 4 weeks after completing treatment or a new rash develops, contact a doctor.

It is common for all members of a household to be treated at the same time to avoid reinfection.

Children and adults usually can return to child care, school, or work the day after treatment.

Scabies is a highly contagious skin condition caused by a very small mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. These mites can burrow into your skin and lay eggs. When the eggs hatch, the new mites crawl onto your skin and make new burrows.

This burrowing causes intense itching, especially at night. You might also notice thin tracks of small, red or discolored blisters or bumps. Others develop a rash in areas of folded skin, such as the:

  • buttocks
  • knees
  • arms
  • breasts
  • genitals

If you have scabies, the most common symptom is intense itching that often worsens at night. You may also have a rash with blisters. If you have been in close contact with someone who has scabies, you could have scabies as well, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for these symptoms.

If you believe you have scabies, consider making an appointment with a doctor. They can help you get a scabies diagnosis and the treatment that’s right for your health concerns.

How do I test for scabies?

A test for scabies usually consists of a physical examination performed by a doctor. They will look for signs of mites, including:

  • rash
  • burrows
  • eggs
  • feces

Because a person with scabies may have only 10 to 15 mites, you may be treated for scabies even if the doctor does not find any mites or eggs.

Scabies requires treatment, usually with a prescription cream or lotion. The medications that treat scabies require a prescription from a doctor.

Recent sexual partners and anyone who lives with you will also need to be treated, even if they don’t show any signs or symptoms of scabies.

The doctor will likely tell you to apply the medication over all of your skin, from your neck to your feet, after a bath or shower. Some medications can also be safely applied to your hair and face.

Keep in mind that these topical treatments often need to be left on for at least 8 to 10 hours at a time, so avoid putting it on before taking a shower or bath.

Many people choose to apply topical treatment before bed and leave it on overnight. You may need to do several treatments, depending on the type of medication used or if new rashes appear.

Always follow the directions provided by the doctor as applying these medications too often can cause skin irritation and applying them incorrectly may not treat the infection.

Common topical medications used to treat scabies include:

  • permethrin cream (Elmite)
  • lindane lotion
  • crotamiton (Eurax)
  • ivermectin (Stromectol)
  • sulfur ointment
  • malathion (Ovide)

A doctor may recommend other medications and home remedies to treat symptoms caused by scabies, such as itching and infection.

These may include:

  • antihistamines
  • calamine lotion
  • topical steroids
  • antibiotics

You can also try these home remedies for scabies symptoms.

To kill mites and prevent getting scabies again, the American Academy of Dermatology also recommends that you complete treatment and wash all clothing, bedding, and towels, as well as vacuum your entire home, including upholstered furniture. Items not able to be washed should be stored away from bodily contact for at least 72 hours.

Mites don’t usually survive longer than 48 to 72 hours off a person, and will die if exposed to a temperature of 122°F (50°C) for 10 minutes.

Other people who live in your household, sexual partners, or others with whom you have close contact, may also need to be treated for scabies to prevention repeated infection.

Scabies is a highly contagious skin condition that can affect anyone. While it can acquired through sexual contact, it’s usually spread through nonsexual skin-to-skin contact.

In some cases, sharing bedding, towels, and clothing can also spread it. If you have symptoms of scabies or think you may have been exposed to mites, make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible so you can start treatment and avoid passing it to others.