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The term "mange" applies to several skin diseases in mammals that are caused by microscopic burrowing mites. It's a contagious infestation that affects many species, including wildlife and domestic animals. Two forms, "sarcoptic mange" (also known as "scabies") and "chorioptic mange" can be transmitted to people.
New hosts pick up the parasites from direct contact with an infested animal or its nesting area, or when the mites leave an abandoned nest in search of a new host. So, for example, if squirrels are removed from an attic but no one's cleaned up after them, their mites might wander into the home looking for another source of food and shelter (a new host).
Mange is almost always fatal to red foxes and takes a heavy toll on coyotes, too. It may be a significant cause of death among squirrels during the winter. Although rare in well-fed, well-kept cats, mange is a problem in domestic dogs.
Sarcoptic mange in wildlife and domestic animals usually causes itchiness, hair loss, crusty scabs (often seen first on the head), and thick, wrinkly skin. The skin changes can cause blindness, impaired hearing, and difficulty in eating. In advanced cases, the animal may be weak and emaciated and smell foul, a result of secondary infections caused by scratching. If untreated, the animal may die of exhaustion, dehydration, or a secondary infection.
In people, this infestation causes a rash that usually looks like pimples, but may look like blisters or an inflammation; it usually appears on the forearms, thighs, and abdomen. Reactions vary. Generally, the mites die off, because they don't do as well on people. Although doctors don't often attempt to kill the mites with drugs, they may offer patients medication to control the itchiness so the patient doesn't scratch constantly, which could invite other infections.
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