groin appeared two days ago, and it shows no
signs of clearing up any time soon. In fact, you think it's spreading
. It itches, it burns even, and the more you scratch
, the more inflamed, irritated and painful the rash
It looks bad. It looks very bad. Your abdomen, inner thighs and genitals are covered with thin, pencil-mark-like lines and red bumps, surrounded by skin swollen and pink from pinching and digging. I am dying, I must be dying, you repeat as you drive to the doctor's office.
You search for any sign of how you could have been infected with this illness, this sickness that will surely be the end of you. You remember a string of out-of-the-ordinary events that occurred a few days ago:
You spent the night at your aunt's house in Czechoslovakia in a spare bed pulled out from underneath your cousin's. The sheets looked and felt dirty and unwashed, but you were tired so you slept on them anyway. Your legs were so stiff in the morning from the inadequate bedding that you forced your cousin to massage them.
Later, your relatives took you out to eat at a fancy restaurant. You had sex with the waiter in the rest room, and don't remember seeing him wash his hands before he served your meal. On the drive back to your apartment in Los Angeles, you pulled over to the side of the road for a much-needed urination break. A passing car honked at you mid-stream, making you stumble into a telephone pole. Your penis brushed against the post and you got a splinter.
Finally, after the examination, the doctor says you have scabies. Scabies! What in the hell are scabies? Why me? Why now? But your doctor explains: Scabies is a contagious skin disease caused by a nearly microscopic mite: Sarcoptes scabiei, which has been infesting humans for at least 2,500 years.
The scabies mites, attracted to the warmth and odor, dig into human skin to store their eggs. The holes resulting from their burrowing typically form tiny gray lines (which resemble pencil marks) all over the infected area of the patient's body. Usually an itchy rash forms as an allergic response to the parasite. It becomes inflamed and swollen when agitated by constant scratching.
You are not going to die. Scabies is not a serious disease, regardless of how disgustingly it may manifest itself on your body, and it does not reflect your personal hygiene. Every one of the more than 300 million people infected with the disease can continue to be (or not to be) productive members of society.
They can still run marathons, run for Congress (or even the presidency), aid in the care of blind children and wait your table at a fancy restaurant, even if they carry on without visiting a doctor. Despite the fact that people can cope with the nagging pain and extreme discomfort scabies inflicts, it's still recommended that carriers be formally diagnosed and treated for the disease due to its highly contagious nature
And treatment is easy. It consists of a few doctor-prescribed lotions and shampoos containing active ingredients like lindane, benzyl bezoate, or permethrin applied usually no more than once to kill off the infestation. But don't expect immediate results. Even after an infestation is eliminated, itching will likely persist for another two weeks.
How highly contagious is highly contagious? Let's say you sleep on a bed with infected sheets, have your legs massaged by someone with infected hands, have sex with an afflicted waiter in the rest room of a fancy restaurant or are stabbed by a splinter hanging from a telephone pole ... Any of these happenings (though probably not the splinter incident) could have allowed scabies to colonize your crotch area.
You don't need to have sex with a scabies sufferer in order to contract it. In fact, in most reported cases, scabies is not contracted sexually. Direct contact with any infected person (or clothing or bedding – the mite will survive without a human host for about 24 hours) can allow the bug to make you its home, so anyone who lives in the same household as a carrier should undergo the same lotion and shampoo regimen as the polluted housemate in order to prevent an outbreak.
You breathe easier now; you are relieved. You vow to educate others on the dangers of casual touching, clothes-swapping and bed-sharing. You, to avoid a small, nearly microscopic mite, promise the world that you will become a cleaner, healthier and altogether better person.
And the world thanks you.