Dear Dr. Thompson: What would be the major concerns if a human contracted sarcoptic mange from an infected piece of furniture? Do you think it is possible for a human to get infected from a washcloth or towel that may have been used to clean a dog with mange? How should someone handle and care for items that were used to care for a dog with mange? If a human were untreated with sarcoptic mange, what would be the major concerns?
Sarcoptic mange in dogs arises from the effects of a microscopic mite called Sarcoptes Scabeii that burrows under the skin of many domestic and wild mammals. This mite has the potential to infect people through close contact with an infected animal and should not be confused with the noncontagious mange called demodex that is seen in many young dogs. The scabies mite does not reproduce and only lives for a very brief period off of the animal, so infection from a piece of furniture would be unlikely.
Infected animals are intensely itchy, especially in areas where there is less hair, like elbows, the abdomen and ears. Some animals have a characteristic foot-scratching motion when you rub their ear called the pinnal-pedal reflex. Diagnosis can be difficult since the mites are only visible under the microscope from scraping the skin in multiple locations and the mites can easily escape detection. In about 50 percent of cases a diagnosis is made only by response to treatment.
Sarcoptes Scabeii var hominus is the mite that causes human scabies and has a very different clinical course. Most human cases from infected pets are very short-lived and mild.
Itchy areas that come in contact with the infected pets are typical from people who are sensitive to the mite. Fortunately the species that infects animals prefers its main species and does not fare well on people. Persistent infections are typically associated with people who do not have fully functioning immune systems.
If an animal is diagnosed or suspected to have sarcoptic mange, any areas where the pet spends a lot of time should be bleached and bedding should be washed in hot water.
Because the mite does not live long off of the host, infection from a towel or washcloth would be unlikely. Once treatment is started most pets will improve rapidly and should be considered contagious to other pets and people for about one month. Good luck with a very unsettling problem.
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