Background  Scabies is a contagious parasitic infestation which causes an allergic reaction to just a few mites.

Objectives  To examine the epidemiology of scabies consultations in the U.K. by age, sex, region of the country and time.

Methods  Data were obtained from the THIN (The Health Information Network) database provided by EPIC U.K. in which each consultation episode is coded according to a ‘READ’ code. Data were available for 1997–2005 inclusive (9 years) for approximately 8·5% of the U.K. population from 12 regions of the U.K. We used harmonic analysis to model the data over time and derived cycle amplitudes and phases for each region in the U.K.

Results  There was a significantly greater infestation rate among females with a relative risk of 1·24 (< 0·001) relative to males. The age group 10–19 years had the highest infestation rates (with rates of 4·55 per 1000 and 5·92 per 1000 for males and females, respectively). The middle age groups had the smallest infestation rates. A cycle with length of between 15 and 17 years was derived, and the phase times of the cycles for each region suggested a progression of the disease originating from the North East, spreading to Northern parts of the U.K. and then to the Midlands and the South.

Conclusions  The study confirms earlier studies with regard to the age/sex distribution of scabies. We suggest a contagious pattern of spread of scabies infestation in the U.K. with an epidemic cycle length of 15–17 years.