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Is your eczema really scabies? How to spot the difference

Isabel Shaw, Published: 11:30, 16 Jan 2024. Read original article: https://www.thesun.co.uk/health/25378218/eczema-scabies-differences-victorian-diseases/

How to spot the difference as cases of Victorian disease surge, plus, what to do if you or someone in your family has scabies.

If you notice itchy red bumps on your skin, you might wonder whether it’s eczema or, indeed, scabies. With cases of the Victorian disease on the rise, you wouldn’t be wrong for being concerned.

Scabies is a highly contagious condition caused by mites burrowing into the skin, leaving an intensely itchy rash which can last for months. Last month, GPs warned outbreaks of the critters are widespread in the UK, with cases double what is expected for this time of year. Pharmacists have also said supplies of the two most widely used medical treatments for scabies in the UK are running low due to increased demand.

Eczema is a chronic and incurable condition which affects some six million people in the UK.

Its symptoms of a red and itchy rash can sometimes look like scabies, meaning the two conditions can often can often get confused, explains Dr Angela Tewari, a consultant dermatologist.

“Scabies initiates an inflammatory reaction causing scale and redness, the same symptoms you get in eczema. “However, the presentation is rather different,” she tells The Sun. The main difference between the two conditions is what time of day it strikes. Scabies tend to be worse at night when the skin is warmer.

“With scabies, you get a lot of itching at night when the mites are burrowing under the skin,” she explains. During eczema flare-ups, which can occur as often as two or three times a month, the itching is fairly constant. “Scabies usually affects every part of the body, apart from the head and neck,” she adds.

While eczema can also affect any part of the body, it most often affects the hands in adults, the inside of the elbows, the backs of the knees, and the face and scalp in children. “It’s really important you seek proper medical advice if you think you have scabies as it is highly contagious and ensure you are careful around others that could be infectious,” Angela adds.

The latest surveillance data from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) revealed three cases per 100,000 people in November, double the seasonal average. In the week of November 27, 27,484 cases were recorded by 500 GP practices in England and Wales monitoring the rash. 

For comparison, just 56 cases were recorded during the same week in 2021, while 94 were logged that week in 2022.  

What to do if you have scabies

While very infectious, scabies can take up to eight weeks for the most obvious sign, the rash, to appear, meaning people can transmit it unknowingly to others, the NHS says.

The rash usually spreads to the whole body, minus the head. The condition is incurable without treatment, and people should avoid work or school until they receive medication. A pharmacist will recommend a cream or lotion you apply over your whole body.

Everyone in your home needs to be treated simultaneously, even if they do not have symptoms.

Although scabies are not a sexually transmitted infection, anyone you have had sexual contact with in the past eight weeks should also be treated.

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