health

I Sat Next To A Stranger At A Petting Zoo, Days Later I Woke Up With A Mystery Rash

Christin Perry LitteThings writer by Christin Perry
Christin is a mom and editor specializing in lifestyle content. She also hides cookies like a boss.

In September of last year, my outer thighs started to itch. Just a bit at first, and then more noticeably.

I assumed I had developed a sensitivity to my laundry detergent, so I switched brands, but the itching continued. In no time, the itching intensified, and it began to spread up and down both legs. Perplexed, I went to a general practitioner, who prescribed prednisone but admitted she had no idea what it was.

As the rash began to spread to my wrists, forearms, shoulders, and chest, I knew I needed to see a dermatologist. At my first appointment, the derm said it was simply a contact allergy and recommended that I buy an anti-itch lotion and take Benadryl at night.

But the two over-the-counter remedies were no match for this itch. As the weeks went by, the itch became so intense that I would scratch until my skin bled. It was so unsightly that I began wearing long sleeves and pants despite the late September heat. It was around this time that my mother-in-law came to visit us. We were sitting at a restaurant when she jokingly said, “Keep your scabies to yourself.” Maybe I should have been offended, but her comment got me thinking. Could it really be scabies? Is that even still a thing that people get?

I immediately made a second appointment with my dermatologist. As I waited for the day of the appointment to arrive, I did my own research. After all, I knew next to nothing about scabies.

What Is Scabies?

What Is Scabies?
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Scabies is an infestation of the skin caused by microscopic mites called Sarcoptes scabiei, which look like tiny spiders. It begins, as mine did, with just a few spots but quickly escalates into a nasty scabies rash as the mites burrow into the skin and lay eggs. The eggs hatch, then those mites lay more eggs. If left untreated, a person suffering from scabies can become covered in thousands of relentlessly itchy bumps in just a matter of weeks. And since the mites are more active at night, the itch of scabies becomes infinitely worse then.

What Does Scabies Look Like?

What Does Scabies Look Like?
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I did a Google image search for scabies and realized that sure enough, my rash looked pretty much identical to the pictures. One of the hallmarks of scabies symptoms is a series of skin-colored bumps that form straight lines. They kind of look like track marks. These lines of bumps form as the scabies mites burrow into the skin.

How Is Scabies Diagnosed?

How Is Scabies Diagnosed?
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Finally, the day of my appointment arrived, and this time I thought I was armed with all the information I needed to get treated successfully and leave the horrific rash behind for good. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The doctor insisted it couldn’t possibly be scabies, but she couldn’t give me a good reason for her logic. She decided to perform two “punch biopsies” on my leg, which, trust me, are every bit as painful as they sound.

In a punch biopsy, a hole is punched into your skin to remove a small chunk, which can then be examined under a microscope. The procedure requires only one to two stitches, but I found it painful nonetheless, and it left a noticeable scar. The skin sample was examined, and the results indicated that there was presence of “arthropods,” indicating that it was, in fact, a scabies infestation.

How Do You Get Scabies?

How Do You Get Scabies?
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But unbelievably, my doctor was still skeptical! She couldn’t understand why no one else in my family was exhibiting any scabies symptoms, despite the fact that I was in regular contact with them and sleeping in the same bed with my husband and 3-year-old daughter. Scabies mites are contracted through direct contact with someone who has an active infection. I had apparently contracted it by sitting next to an infected person on a hayride at a local petting zoo. Scabies can also be spread through contact with the sheets, towels, or clothing of an infected person. So my doctor simply couldn’t fathom why no one else had it.

Scabies Treatment

Scabies Treatment
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Regardless, she prescribed a scabies treatment cream called permethrin. Permethrin is used to paralyze and kill the scabies mites beneath the skin and therefore is — ready for this? — technically a pesticide. So if you think having scabies is terrible, I’m here to tell you that the treatment options aren’t much better. That said, having scabies is so miserable that after suffering for many weeks, I was more than ready to slather a pesticide onto my skin if there was even a remote chance of relief.

The method of applying permethrin is extremely specific, and you have to follow the instructions exactly. It’s basically a lotion that comes in a tube, and you have to apply it from your chin line all the way down to your feet — including your genitals and armpits and between your fingers and toes — basically everywhere. When applying permethrin, you can’t afford to miss a single spot. This even includes the soles of your feet, and it’s recommended that you wear socks after application so the cream won’t wear off as you walk. After applying the cream, you leave it on overnight and shower it off in the morning.

Ridding Your House of Scabies

Ridding Your House of Scabies
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After treatment, the cleaning begins. Here are some of the things you’ll need to do to avoid reinfection:

  • Bag up the clothes you wore just prior to applying the cream, seal the bags tightly, and let them sit for at least 24 hours.
  • Do the same with all towels, bed sheets, and other linens you’ve used.
  • Wash clothes separately from any other laundry in the house in the hottest water possible.
  • Vacuum every surface possible, including your mattress and curtains.
  • Purchase a zip-up mattress and pillow protector. This will kill any mites that might have gotten into the mattress.
  • Replace your shower pouf or sponge, along with anything else that has come into contact with your infected skin.

How My Scabies Story Ended

How My Scabies Story Ended
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After the first round of treatment with permethrin, the number of bumps decreased and the itching faded a bit. But after two weeks, it came right back! This meant that I hadn’t killed all of the eggs, which had then developed into adults and continued breeding. I felt like jumping right out of my own skin. I was losing hope and becoming depressed. I wasn’t sleeping at all due to the itching — my skin literally felt like it was crawling 24/7, and I felt like a leper.

A second round of permethrin was prescribed, and this time, my doctor also prescribed a pill called ivermectin. Luckily for me, this second round of combined treatment did the trick, and my skin finally cleared up… after six solid months of dealing with the insidious itch of scabies.

Looking back, I’m not really sure how I lived with scabies for nearly half a year. I can say without reservation that it was one of the darkest periods of my entire life. I would encourage anyone who thinks they might have scabies to find a qualified dermatologist who’s willing to listen — after all, many cases of scabies are self-diagnosed. And if treated quickly, scabies doesn’t have to turn into the horrific experience I had.