Scabies usually spreads through sexual contact or other prolonged skin-to-skin contact with someone who is infected. In some cases, scabies can spread indirectly by sharing towels, bedding, or clothing. If someone has a severe form of scabies, the condition can spread through even brief skin-to-skin contact.
Transmission Through Direct Contact
Scabies occurs when a type of human mite burrows into the skin. Most people with scabies only have about 10 to 15 mites, so prolonged, direct skin-to-skin contact is typically required for the infestation to spread.
The activities with the highest risk of transmission include having sex with and sleeping in the same bed as someone with scabies. However, holding hands for five minutes or more might be enough for scabies to spread. When someone is diagnosed with and treated for scabies, healthcare providers often recommend treating any sexual partners and household members, as well.
Transmission Through Indirect Contact
Although uncommon, scabies sometimes spreads through indirect contact. Examples of indirect transmission include:
- Sharing infested towels
- Sleeping in infested bedding
- Wearing infested clothing
If you get diagnosed with scabies, decontaminate these types of items by dry cleaning or washing them in hot water and drying on a high heat setting. Seal items that can’t be laundered this way inside a plastic bag for a minimum of 72 hours, because most scabies mites die after two to three days away from human skin.
Crusted Scabies Transmission
Crusted scabies is a severe form of this condition in which an individual is infested with hundreds or even millions of mites. People with this condition are highly contagious, so transmission risk is high even with brief skin-to-skin contact, such as a handshake. Anyone who has recently had direct contact with someone who has crusted scabies should get treatment as soon as possible.