The First Dsease of Humans (Scabies, 1687)
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Natura Obscura – Sarcoptes scabiei Mite (white version)

Sarcoptes scabiaie

Magnification: 296:1

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Hand-colored scanning electron micrograph of Scabies (Sarcoptes scabiei) by Martin Oeggerli.

The itch mite is a parasite, which burrows into human skin, thereby causing scabies. The discovery of the itch mite in 1687 marked scabies as the first disease of humans with a known cause. Other mammals can also become infected, including dogs, cats, ungulates, wild boars, bovids, wombats, koalas, and great apes.

About 2% of the British population is thought to be infected with these mites, which take about 25 minutes to an hour to burrow into the skin. The burrowing is carried out using the mouth parts and special cutting surfaces on the front legs. A burrowing mite anchors with suckers on its feet, furrows and spines, located on its body surface. Eggs are laid in small numbers as the mite burrows. As these hatch, six-legged larvae climb out on to the skin and search for hair follicles, where they feed and develop.