Surviving Scabies: Fifteen Steps That Worked For Us
Scabies: Our Personal Experience
What we thought was a simple rash was actually an all out invasion: an attack on our home, our bodies and our life. This irritating, itchy rash was so much more than just a rash. It was an unknown enemy.....WAS...now we know so much about it and it is no longer an enemy. We have experienced and conquered it. If you can learn about it and beat it....even a little bit...with the information here, then it will be worth it.
The first thing I did, which you are probably doing now yourself, is to read everything I could find about scabies. Well...that is AFTER we learned that this itching was in fact scabies. We first thought my husband was actually experiencing a bout of shingles. He had a red, irritated rash on his stomach and right side. It itched like crazy and he was positive it was shingles. He is 56 years old, so he is "outside the average age" for the shot that they have available. We were told that we could go to the Doctor and get a prescription for it. When I called the Doctor, I was told that we had waited too long for the shot to be effective. He had been itching for a couple of weeks. Shingles is best treated within the first few days. We picked up some Benedryl and some medicated lotion and headed home.
A few days later, I woke up in the middle of the night to the sensation that a spider was crawling across my leg. I jumped out of bed, turned on the lamp and threw back the covers. We live in an area where the deadly brown recluse is a common sight. I was prepared to KILL! We searched everywhere and found nothing. My husband convinced me that I had been only dreaming about it, so we went back to bed. I woke up the next morning with a bumpy rash of mosquito like bites, or spider bites! A bit of Benedryl and lotion later, I was good to go....or so I thought! Over the next couple of weeks, the bumps began to itch more and spread. My husband was literally in pain, which was normal for shingles, but there was no logical explanation for it spreading to me. I began to search for answers. I used several symption checker apps and websites to see what information I could find. They all listed shingles as well as scabies. Scabies? That was a disease for dogs! I have one dog, a very clean and healthy outdoor dog. I called the vet. My dog was NOT infected with scabies. In addition, scabies is not trasferrable between humans and pets. We did not get scabies from her, but he agreed...it sounded like scabies. We did not have the classic symptom of having bumps in the webbed skin between our fingers or toes however. What was going on??
I made an appointment with the Doctor to have my husband's rash checked out. The morning of the appointment, I had a child's mother tell me that her child was diagnosed with scabies and I had been exposed. She said their doctor said to get immediate treatment if I got a rash of any type. As a Substitute Teacher, it was important that I not spread anything, so I called to be sure I could be seen as well. The doctor took a look at my side, my arms and my hip. She said it was no doubt that it was scabies. They asked me to fill out the paper work required and sent me to the front desk. While I was out there, they checked my husband. When I returned to the examination room, she caught me outside the door. She asked how long we had this..I told her a few weeks. She said there was no possible way. My husband was so severely covered, it had to have been longer....much longer. She took me in and showed me the groin area just below the waistband of his jeans. It was covered, absolutely covered in bumps and angry red blisters! Bless his heart, he really was suffering! I hadn't even looked at it over the weeks. I knew he was uncomfortable, so I had left him alone. Big mistake! I tell you this because I want you to know that it was severe. It was extreme scabies. I had an average case and we both have recovered. We have had a complete recovery. You can recover from it too. It takes time, work and dedication, but it is possible.
Have you had a scabies experience?
Pictures of Scabies
An Unknown Enemy Uncovered
Our "enemy" had a name. Scabies. That was ALL I knew. The doctor explained that it was a skin mite that was difficult to get rid of once it found a host and created a nest. A nest was recognizable as a red, pimple sized, blister-like bite. In this bite was a nest of eggs that would hatch, then each mite would burrow under the skin to find their own area in which to nest and breed. These tunnel-like burrows showed as a silvery trail connecting the pimply dots. The pimply dots turned into pus filled blisters. They bred, hatched, burrowed, bred, hatched and burrowed. Bless their microscopic hearts! Unlike a gnat or ant, these little critters were practically invisible. They are about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Teeny, tiny little soldiers marching under your skin eating their way through your body! What caused the itchy reaction was their feces in the burrows. YUCK! It is easily diagnosed by its appearance and a simple scraping of the skin. This scraping is viewed under a microscope to confirm the presence of the mite. Simple and painless, but the key to the diagnosis. The rash and the itching were pretty much the only symptoms.
The itching sensation was practically non-stop. By the time it was bad enough we sought relief, we were literally digging at the rash...constantly scratching in an effort to get relief from the itchiness. He was scratching so much that I would get up and sleep in the guest room across the hall. Again, I thought it was shingles and itching was an expected side effect. Now I know that scratching is the LAST thing to do! Scratching allows the mites to get under your nails and be transferred to other parts of your body....or to other persons! We sleep spooned together on our left sides with his right hand on my waist. I broke out first on the right side on my waist. No surprise now that we know how it transfers. Anyway....we now knew it was, in fact, scabies.
This is where I began my search! It had a name, so I could find information about it! I checked several websites which I will list below. I got as much information as possible and formed a plan. The doctor prescribed a medicated cream, Permethrin Cream 5% for treatment. It is only found in this strength with a prescription. It was expensive, $85 per tube, but worth every penny. My husband was so infested that the doctor prescribed 4 tubes for him and 2 tubes for me. She said it would take at least two treatments, seven days apart, to get us anywhere near mite free. She also explained that we woud have to treat ourselves completely, from the chin down and for a minimum of twelve hours. After this, we would need to shower it off and begin our mite attack! We purchased two tubes to begin treatment. We found that one tube covered both of us, completely and generously. Two tubes gave us two full treatments.
Before treating ourselves, I wrote out a plan of action. I was waging war with this minuscule enemy. I had learned that in addition to their life under our skins, these little critters can survive several days on fabric, in mattresses and blankets. We had work to do! We would need to be complete and thorogh in order to be successful. Our entire life was cushioned, padded and blanketed! We had experienced an unusually early cold spell and I had already put blankets and comforters on the beds. We also had fabric covered furniture in every room! UGGH! This was going to be a MAJOR project! Where would I begin??? There was no way I could ask for help. First of all, I was SO embarrassed that we had it, but more importantly, I didn't want ANYONE to go through this horrible experience because of me. I refused to be the reason anyone became infested. After the trip to the pharmicist, I stopped at the local grocery store and loaded up on cleaning supplies. We were armed and ready. Time to attack. Where to begin? Would it work? I was going to try.
Our Plan of Attack
If you only read one part of this entire article, then this is the part to read. We took the attitude of waging war on this mite. After everything I had read, I knew it would take everything we had to get beyond it. To get to the other side, we needed to be thorough, consistent and utterly obsessive. We didn't know if any of this would work. It was a mix of what everyone had said and what I thought would work. I was willing to try. I had no other plan if it didn't work, but had to give it a try. These are the steps we took after leaving both the doctor's office with the diagnosis and the pharmacy with the medicated cream.
- Gather supplies. The local discount/grocery store had everything I needed, so we were set with one stop. I got 2 gallons of bleach, 3 bottles of Spic and Span Antibacterial spray, plastic gloves, 3 containers of laundry detergent with an antibacterial agent, epsom salt, hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle, salt, paper plates, plastic silverware, enough microwavable meals for a week, a plastic tarp big enough to wrap each mattress, duct tape, vacuum cleaner bags, garbage bags, coconut oil, nail clippers, deodorant, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, apple cider vinegar, lice spray, clorox wipes and antibacterial hand soap.
- Find the source. Where did it come from? I had to know and cut the source off at the knees. My husband is a city bus driver. When we called my husband's boss to let him know he had been infected and the bus needed to be treated, he let us know that a substitute driver had let him know he also was infected a couple of months earlier. My husband had been infected through the seat. The mites had survived on the seat and had infected my husband weeks before anyone had known. His boss assured us the seat would be treated. Source found. While I am sure it was treated, I left NOTHING to chance. I sent hubby to work with a package of the clorox wipes to wipe down the vinyl seat every day anyway.
- Strip the house of ALL possible points of reinfestation. That's EVERYTHING!! We literally worked ALL day and night...without stop...to rid our home of any possible point of reinfestation. The utility room obviously was command central. I selected my office for a "clean" point. We had been busy with family events and had not been anywhere near my office for the past two weeks. It was my understanding that the life cycle was approximately 3-5 days. The office was clean and mite free. We would KEEP it that way! We would only place clean items there and only when we were clean ourselves. I was an EVIL queen about keeping it clean. Every load of laundry went in this room after being in the dryer. Nothing was taken from this room until we had bathed and were clean ourselves. Items were sorted as to his, mine and linens. He never touched my laundry and I never touched his laundry. We only got towels following bathing, so we were clean enough to be in there. We wore clean socks to enter the room and used gloves to handle the linens before using them.
- I made a chart. Once all the laundry was clean we would need some way of making sure things were clean consistently. On even days light colors and on odd days dark colors would be worn and the opposite colors would be washed. Reds were worn only on Fridays (I'm a Military Mom) and comfy clothes on weekends. I put every bit of clothing we had worn over the past few weeks into piles in the utility room, sorted by color of course. It didn't matter if it had been washed already. It was going to be washed again. I stripped the beds and started the laundry with the the mattress pads. Every load was washed in full cup of soap, a 1/2 cup of salt and a half cup of hydrogen peroxide. I had read that salt dried up the mites and I have washed laundry in hydrogen peroxide to kill germs before. It works for that, why not for this. I don't know if it made a difference, but I am reporting here what I actually did. The second load was bath towels. We were going to need "clean" towels for drying off from our shower before applying the cream. NO cream until I had a clean environment.
- I put all our bed pillows into garbage bags, sprayed them with the lice spray and sealed them up tight. In addition, I sealed up the blankets and the comforters from each bed as well. Each bag was sprayed with the lice spray and sealed tight. I put them in the guest room. No guests would be here until this was gone, so it was the best place! I sprayed the mattresses with the lice spray and we wrapped them with the tarps. Using the duct tape, we sealed them shut.
- I threw away our hairbrushes, deodorant and toothbrushes. We had handled these items regularly and they had touched our bodies consistently and repeatedly. They were GONE! I also threw away the bath sponges, scrubbers and anything we handled doing dishes. We used only the paper and plastic disposable utensils along with microwavable foods for a whole week. I didn't want to spread anything through handling. It was NOT going to happen. We were cleaning every inch of the house and I had no desire to cook. Just the thought of these mites and the creepy crawly itch they gave me....made me NUTS!
- While I worked on the house, my husband worked on our cars. He removed the cute seat covers, placed them in garbage bags, sprayed lice spray into them and sealed them tight. They went into the trunk of his car. In addition, he sprayed the seats, carpet and head lining, waited an hour and then vacuumed them all. He used the shop vac for this, so he also ran some hot bleach water through the vac. Following that, he swept and sprayed the steps and porches and doormats with bleach water. Just in case!
- We cleaned the bathroom...every inch...with bleach water. I placed rugs into garbage bags and placed an antibacterial spray bottle next to the toilet. Any surface that we touched...got a spray...every time we touched it. Door knobs, faucet handles, toilet seats, light switches and chairs were sprayed every time we touched them. This included every room in the house. Every time, every item was cleaned. I started using a kleenex to flip a light switch so I didn't have to clean it! I could throw away the tissue!
- I took the shoes we had worn over the past three days and sprayed them inside, wiped them down on the outside and bagged them up for the first two days. It's a good thing that I am a shoe lover! I had plenty of shoes to choose from! My husband, on the other hand, only had a few so I lined up his shoes and made him rotate wearing them. Each time he removed them, we sprayed them inside with hydrogen peroxide.
- I sprayed the cushions in the living room. They were too big for the garbage bags, so I sprayed them with the lice spray, waited an hour or so, vacuumed them, then I took them to the guest room. I place them on a plastic picnic tablecloth and left them for two whole weeks. No room for error with me. In addition, I sprayed the furniture frames which are also fabric covered. I left the spray on them for a couple of hours before vacuuming them. I hoped this would kill off any mites they held. After vacuuming them, I sprayed them again....just in case. Now...we would need something to sit on since these were off limits. I had hubby pull in the metal outdoor rockers. We wiped them down with bleach and set them in place of the sofa. For the next two weeks, we only sat in these rockers. I sprayed and wiped them down every time we sat in them for the first three days, then daily after that. It was important to keep the places we used consistently extra clean.
- Next, I worked top to bottom, front to back and cleared out anything fabric. I removed pillows, blankets, rugs, even curtains from the main rooms. I sprayed and then sealed off the extra rooms...no sense in working in them until we did our initial treatment. We could shut them down and keep out of them if necessary. We used a carpet cleaner to clean the carpet in the living room. I prayed it would dry fast enough for us to sleep in there. No luck on the first night, but we were able to make it work after that.
- We needed a plan for sleeping. Since I had slept in the guest room, it was contaminated as was our bed and bedroom. These were going to be off limits for at least a week. We got out the sleeping bag and made a blanket pallet on the floor. The first night we slept on the kitchen floor since the carpet in the living room was still damp. The following nights, we slept on the living room floor. In an effort to keep the carpet as clean as possible, I also put down a flannel backed plastic tablecloth, plastic side down under the sleeping bag. I layered it tablecloth, sleeping bag, sheet and then quilt. It was only September, but it was cold and sleeping on the floor was chilly. Now one important thing I did was to fold a sheet in half for each of us to wrap up in. This kept us from spreading anything between us. Last but not least, EVERY single day I got up...put every bit of our "bed" into the dryer (3 loads) and ran it on high heat for at least 15 full minutes. This heat was to kill any live mites. Every day without fail and every time we laid down on it. If we so much as took a 10 minute nap, in the dryer it went. I did it immediately after getting up so that there were no opportunities for the mites to migrate elsewhere.
- We trimmed fingernails and toe nails to eliminate any possible hiding place for the mites. We then took a nice warm shower to open up our pores. We dried with freshly washed and dried towels. Then we rubbed a generous layer of cream over our entire bodies from the chin down to, and including, the soles of our feet. It was important to cover every inch as any unprotected spot could become a nesting place for the mites. Every crook and every cranny was coated with the Premethrin 5% cream. It was a creamy cream which rubbed in well without a greasy residue. We put on clean clothes that had not been worn for weeks and had gone through the 15 minutes in the dryer on high heat. We covered up arms, legs, feet and only handled linens with gloved hands. The instructions in the box with the cream said it was to be left on between 8-14 hours. I went with 14 hours. At hour 14, we each showered and put on yet another set of clean and "power" dried clothes. The clothes we removed were immediately placed into the washer, washed and dried. They did not have a chance to contaminate anything else. We repeated the treatment on day 7 and began all over again.
- I washed 14 loads of laundry getting everything washed and dried. The clothing that I could not wash in hot water or throw in the dryer wet...were hung up to dry in the guest room and then once dry, they were placed in the 15 minute cycle of high heat. It was a complete and thorough changeover of our clothing. Once I got all the original laundry washed, I set out clothing for an entire week. That way I didn't handle the laundry any more than necessary, even down to shoes. In addition, I got rid of clothes that we rarely wore. Why wash clothes I wasn't going to wear? I had enough to do already!
- Every single day I put our sleeping pallet into the dryer. Every day I wiped down every inch of the bathroom, the utility room and the kitchen. Every day I sprayed the living room floor, waited an hour, vacuumed the floor and threw away the vacuum bag. Every day, every inch. Every day my husband and I sprayed door knobs, faucets, and light switches. The first three days we used bleach water to spray things, then we changed to a hydrogen peroxide spray. I used the peroxide to spray even the floors and furniture.
We were faithful.....obsessively and compulsively faithful. To be honest, I was going insane in my obsession of cleaning and sanitizing. I was utterly and completely exhausted. We both worked full time and kept our distance from touching others. In addition, we wiped down and sprayed seats, handles, door knobs and anything we handled at work. It was markedly the most stressful, consuming thing I have ever experienced. We went no place except work. We didn't touch anyone, not even each other. We didn't do anything except clean, bathe, and sleep. There wasn't time for anything else. That being said, they were the longest weeks of my life! By week three, things began to show signs of improvement. We began to spray daily instead of every time we touched something. I began breathe. I began to believe that somehow all of the insanity was working.
Finally: Signs of Improvement
We began to experience signs of improvement. The Permethrin 5% cream had begun to work. The itching had gotten less severe. The pimply rash had stopped spreading. We experienced a prickly sensation while the cream was on our skin but it subsided when the cream was washed off. One side effect of the Permethrin 5% cream is mild confusion and was experienced by both of us. I personally had some trouble finishing a thought...I couldn't think of the words that I needed to finish a sentence. I had trouble remembering what I was working on and where I had put things. My husband would walk into the room, look at me, then walk out. Five minutes later he would return looking for something. It was relatively minor. None of the incidents were significant enough to warrant concern. However, as I am sharing our experience, it would only be appropriate to share this part as well. The confusion lightened a few days after washing off the cream. When we reapplied the cream, it returned. Once again, it seemed to disappear by the end of the next week.
In light of the improvements, we also had changes in our skin. The mites had created burrows underneath the skin. This left a layer of dead skin on top with nothing underneath it to nourish it. The dry, dead skin left a different kind of irritation. It was dry, flaky skin. In addition to that, the skin was beginning to push out the dead mites and the "gunk" left behind. This was a natural sloughing off, but it was irritated skin. We found that the coconut oil gave quick relief while maintaining a sanitary skin environment. Coconut is a gentle oil that holds natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. In addition, the acidic quality of the oil, is a deterrant for the mites.
I also learned that there were great benefits to bleach baths. Not only did it give me the feeling that my skin was clean, but it literally made my skin feel softer and healthier. I waited 24 hours after washing off the cream, then I took a good soaking bath in a full tub of hot water with a 1/2 cup of bleach added. The prickly sensation I experienced following the baths, reminded me of the sensation I experienced following the Permethrin 5% cream. It made me feel as if it were working on keeping the mites away. In addition, my skin felt smooth, soft and sanitary! This was the only additional treatment my skin received - bleach baths and coconut oil rubbed in all over when completely dried.
My husband had a more severe case of scabies. Much of his skin was covered with blister pockets. It was all over his groin area, back, stomach and sides as well as his arms and hands. We stopped counting with 100 spots and hadn't even counted most of them in one area! There were literally several hundred of them. His skin was severely damaged. He also used the coconut oil, but I discouraged him from using the bleach baths until he had healed some. We tried some Epsom salt baths and even tried spraying hydrogen peroxide on the areas he had scratched to the point of causing them to bleed. I figured it would keep them from getting infected. It has been 4 months. He has only a small bit of damaged areas that are giving him trouble. It is in the area of his waistband. As a driver, he has continued rubbing from the seatbelt which has made it slow in healing. We have applied mentholatum to help the area heal more thoroughly. We are hopeful that it will continue to heal! It is irritated but also mite free! Maybe this time off over the holidays will have made a difference.
Like any blister or sore that would take weeks to heal, we have scarring. Scarring is a constant reminder that one little mite can cause utter chaos, but we can overcome it. I'll be honest, it cost us about $400 and it took almost 2 months of relentless, obsessive cleaning and wiping of every possible surface. I may have taken an extreme approach to the removal of the mites, but it worked. If it worked, then was it really extreme or a necessity? At the two month mark, I removed the tarp from the mattress, vacuumed it, threw away the vacuum bag, sprayed it again then put a mattress cover, a fitted sheet, and continued with our separate sheet system to prevent any cross contamination. We were stressed by the continued separation and cleaning. Sleeping in the same bed in our bedroom again was good for our relationship. The separation had taken a toll on our relationship, though we had actually gained in our teamwork efforts. All in all, it was an even swap, but being close again was a definite improvement!
This chapter is officially closed for us.....for now. According to the information I have however, we will be more suseptible to getting scabies again from this point on. That scares me. I worked myself into the ground getting things "clean". I live a clean life. There is no visible dirt or trash in the floor, but the mites made me more aware of the unseen dirt in our lives. The things like the dead skin cells in the mattress that kept the mites alive waiting for us to return. Keeping them at bay is a permanent part of my future. I realize that if I work consistently forever, it will pay off consistently as well. I have adopted a weekly routine of the deep cleaning, spraying and vacuuming all surfaces of the house. That includes deep cleaning of the furniture, carpet and mattresses. Avoiding reinfestation is the first step in avoiding the return of the insane itching and damaged skin. It can be done. We have done it for almost 6 months now. We did it and you can too. I clean the carpet once a month. I wash curtains, rugs and throws every month. I put coats in the dryer on high heat every few days and wash them when we get a day warm enough to let them be in the washer! I rotate out our pillows every month. I have three sets of them and that means we will use them one month and they will sit, bagged, for two months. I still take bleach baths. Every bath!! My skin is soft, healthier than EVER and mite FREE! It is good. VERY Good. I hope this gives you hope. Good luck and God Bless!
Helpful and Informative Websites
- CDC - Scabies - General Information - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about scabies.
- Permethrin Cream 5% for Scabies
Drug details for Permethrin cream 5% for scabies.
Text and photos are the exclusive property of Deborah M. Carey and are not eligible for reproduction or copy by any person or company without written permission.
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