What Really Bugged Me

Picture being bitten by a mosquito ten times stronger than the fiercest one you’ve ever encountered. Add to that, an unending itch that never subsides no matter how hard you scratch, with no relief in sight, and with the cause still unknown. Your doctor seems to think it’s all in your head, wiping off the pain you’re undergoing. You begin questioning your sanity while still scratching to the point where you’re leaving nail marks all over your body. This is the closest one can get to understanding the nightmare of being afflicted with unidentifiable scabies.

Last May, my beloved and I ventured into Cuba for our postponed honeymoon. We traversed the country until we reached our destination, a hotel room that looked like a glorified prison cell. Wincing, I picked up the candlewick bedspread from between two fingers and tossed it as far as I could, fervently hoping that it wouldn’t return on its own. We settled down on a shoddy, creaky bed, praying for dawn to break and our escape from the stale, smelling room. As dawn broke, we checked out of the hotel room, never intending to look back, or so we thought.

Several months after our return, we both started experiencing incessant itching. A warm June meant leaving the windows open, attracting Mediterranean-style mosquitoes and midges. Attributing the itch to their bites and dismissing it as a mere phase, we carried on with our life. However, while the bites diminished, the itch persisted. Switching washing powders failed to provide relief. Stopping in at Boots, I tried to explain to the chemist that I may have picked something up in Cuba. He shook his head disapprovingly, telling me, "I’m itching just because you’re talking about it. It’s all psychosomatic." Dispiritedly, I walked home. We called the council to check if we had bedbugs, but we were reportedly "clean."

My better half’s patience was wearing thin. My best friend called; she suspected it might be scabies. Her cousin had contracted the condition on a train in Poland, where she had used a blanket belonging to the rail service. My heart sank while simultaneously feeling relieved that there was a name for it. Unaware of what scabies was precisely, it still did not sound particularly pleasant.

Sarcoptes scabiei, also known as scabies, is an eight-legged mite half the size of a pinhead that burrows into the skin to lay eggs. Reports suggest that you can contract it via different means, from close contact with humans to infested bedding and mattresses. Two types exist- the most common is "classic," while the worst is "crusted." Classic scabies are barely noticeable- you become aware of tiny red marks that only get worse through constant scratching. There is talk of burrows that are tunnel-shaped, but I never saw these. Anyone can catch the condition, and it is not as a result of poor hygiene.

My spouse, who suffered the most, went to his doctor. He wasn’t fully convinced it was scabies but ended up prescribing a pungent nit lotion to lather ourselves with. It reduced the itching for a bit. Friends and colleagues began coming out with their own stories. A girlfriend revealed she contracted it from a dirty mattress on a trip to Majorca. Her physician looked at her sternly, accusing her of sleeping around and dismissing her condition as something one gets through sexual contact. My cousin’s partner was also told his condition was not scabies but still purchased the scabies cream, which ended up putting a stop to his itching.

One morning in July, we found my husband covered with an angry red rash on his torso. We made yet another trip to the surgery. This time, a new doctor suspected eczema and prescribed the strongest steroids available. My husband had never suffered from eczema before, so we wondered why the sudden onset? He was left with no explanation, only a prescription for the strongest antihistamines available to help him sleep.

By this point, we loathed the nights and dreaded sleeping. As soon as the early hours set in, the itching commenced. We would look at each other in desperation, eyes bloodshot and sleep-deprived. If one of us wasn’t scratching, the other was busy trying to assuage their itches. It was akin to being two dogs riddled with fleas. We had no idea that scabies come out to lay their eggs in the night, exacerbating the itch. We began to question whether it was genuinely all in our heads.

Feeling at my wit’s end, I visited a different practice from my husband’s doctor. Unfortunately, my cat had passed away on the same day, leaving me red-eyed and shattered. I showed her my back, which was riddled with visible marks. "Aha! Flea bites!" she exclaimed, leaving me rather confused since I had cats for twelve years and had never been bitten. Instead of other forms of treatment, she instructed me to spray my flat with a flea spray.

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The next day, my spouse visited a new medical practitioner who immediately diagnosed him with scabies upon examining him. She instructed him to apply the recommended cream all over his body, air out the mattress, and wash all beddings. Finally, we had a definitive answer. Shockingly, it appeared that the eczema was a side effect of scabies caused by a mite.

Despite following the prescribed treatment, the itching persisted for a while and this left us frustrated. Since we didn’t receive definitive instructions on how to proceed, we took it upon ourselves to spray the mattress with 20 different substances, purchase waterproof covers, wash every bed linen, including duvets, and launder all clothing worn in the previous months. Was this level of meticulousness necessary? It’s unclear.

Our research proved that scabies is not linked to poverty as it affects individuals of different social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. However, I was deeply upset by the social stigma that scabies seemed to carry. On a visit to see a friend with a newborn baby, her health visitor advised her against letting me into her house. The misinformation surrounding this condition circulated amongst the public and medical practitioners, making it an already unpleasant infection even more difficult.

The worst thing for us was the lack of sympathy and knowledge displayed by several physicians. We begged for treatment but were turned away with incorrect answers. If they had taken the time to listen and explain the situation to us, we would have avoided the sleepless nights, the scars from constant scratching, the self-diagnosis and the fear of being ostracized.

In conclusion, I’d like to reassure all my friends and family that it’s safe to visit us now. We’ve taken care of the situation and can’t wait to catch up with you all.


  • joaquincain

    Joaquin Cain is a 39 year old school teacher and blogger from the United States. He has a passion for education and is always looking for new and innovative ways to help his students learn. He is also a big believer in the power of technology and its ability to help improve education.