A.Vogel Talks about the causes of scabies

What factors can contribute to an outbreak of scabies?


Felicity Mann
Skin Health Advisor
@AVogelUK
Ask Felicity

An introduction to the causes of scabies

There are a variety of persisting rumours about the causes of scabies, ranging from blaming your hygiene to accusing your pets when in reality both factors have very little bearing on your susceptibility to the parasite.

The scabies mite are not weakened by a good scrub of soap, although in poor, overcrowded living conditions it might be easy to perceive how this misconception could arise.

Your pets are unlikely to be the culprits either, although they can carry a different strain of mites that generally prefer animal hosts over humans, making any reactions to the parasites mild and short-term. 

Instead you should be looking at several other causes for the spread of the parasite which can help you to understand how to avoid the pathogen in the future and whether or not you may be inherently vulnerable to the condition.

Weak immune system

If your immune system is weakened then it can increase the survival rate of your unwanted guests, which is why the condition is so commonplace in children and the elderly. Scabies are clever in that they have the capacity to confuse your immune system’s response, affecting the production of cytokine, a protein that can bond with other anti-bodies that are released to kill the parasites.1

They can also secrete a chemical which slows down inflammatory responses from the immune system, which is why it can take a while for symptoms to appear during your first outburst of the parasite.  If your immune system is already fragile, then scabies have an added advantage during this process, and your body will struggle to fight back against the pathogen or assist you in developing immunity to the mites.

In a study conducted by Department of Biological Sciences, at Wright State University, Ohio, it was uncovered that your immune system can become more resistant to the mites,  which is why symptoms appear quicker in secondary contractions of the infection than the first.2 

1https://sites.google.com/site/scabiesparasite/host-defence/host-defence---immune-system-specific-to-scabies

2http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8299759

Poor nutrition

Your diet in and of itself will not make you more susceptible to scabies, but it can influence the strength of your immune system.

If you are following a diet that lacks the essential nutrients that you need or consume a lot of refined sugars, processed fats and caffeine, then your immune system is ultimately going to pay the price.

The unhealthy foods that you love, such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, crisps etc., all contain inflammatory chemicals, which can trigger the formation of histamine and adrenalin. If your immune system is constantly being forced to produce these chemicals, it will eventually become fatigue and sluggish.

The scabies mite will then be able to overwhelm your immune system and your body will struggle to build up a resistance, with recurring episodes becoming more and more frequent. If you suffer from a poor diet, it can also affect the health of your skin, as key nutrients, like vitamin C, are imperative when it comes to strengthening and supporting your epidermis.

Stress

Stress, like diet, is not a direct cause of scabies, but it can play a role in weakening your immune system.

When you experience stress, it can stimulate your sympathetic nervous system. Once this happens, your body believes that you are in a potentially life-threatening situation and starts to trigger your ‘fight or flight’ reflexes.

Your immune system will be forced to release a wave of inflammatory chemicals, in order to dilate your blood levels, raise your pulse and prepare your body for a physical fight. Now imagine that this process is repeated again, and again, every time you feel panicky or anxious – no wonder your immune system quickly becomes exhausted!

Once stress has lowered your immune function, the scabies mites can find it easier to breed uninhibited, prolonging your outbreak and making your symptoms more persistent.

Direct contact

Scabies are highly contagious but to contract the parasite from an infected party must involve a degree of physical contact that goes beyond the usual quick hug or cursory handshake.

Skin on skin interaction must be persistent and prolonged which is why the disease is usually spread by children to their parents or fellow playmates, and also by engaging in sexual intercourse with a contaminated individual.

If you suspect that your child might have scabies, it could be worthwhile keeping them at home until their symptoms have been treated, and likewise avoid sexual contact with an infected person.

Indirect contact

Scabies can survive and live outside the human body, but only for a limited amount of time, which is why indirect contact is not considered to be a common means of contraction.

However, if you are sharing clothing, bedding or towels with an infected party then you are still at risk and should make sure to take precautions again catching the parasites, by limiting your contact with these possible contagions and cleaning your bed linen regularly, at a high temperature.

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