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By Rebecca Hernandez

A puppy with mange - a dog's version of scabies.

If you can read the following without scratching yourself at least once, hats off to you, because I couldn’t. This is the mite, after all, for whom the name “Seven Year Itch” comes from.

Contrary to popular belief the term did not originate from that momentous time in a marriage but rather from the seven-year cyclical incidence in which scabies seem to occur. And when they do occur, they are hard to forget.

The little eight-legged mites burrow into your skin, usually between your fingers or on joints such as elbows or knees, and lay their eggs. You can’t see them and can barely make out their little tunnels, but boy can you feel them.

The itching has been described as “relentless”, “intense”, and “impossible”. Of course it’s much worse at night which makes sleep more than a little difficult. Luckily scabies is somewhat easy to treat, if not a little inconvenient. In addition to washing ALL of your clothes and bedding in hot water, a cream is applied (aptly named Elimite - how clever!) from tip to tail, overnight, then washed off.

Unfortunately the itching does not stop immediately but rather takes a few days to subside. And if one of those little eggs manages to survive the treatment, the whole process must be repeated all over again. Relentless indeed.

(Mildly) interesting fact: Once away from the human body, mites do not survive more than 48-72 hours. When living on a person, an adult female mite can live up to a month.

Danger of death: None as far as we know. However mange, the canine version of scabies, is hazardous for dogs and foxes. In the 1990's, 90% of the urban foxes in Bristol, UK were wiped out by the intense itchiness.

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10 Feb 2009
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