This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
This is a contagious disease. All parts of the body are liable to be affected, except the face and head, which are scarcely ever, if ever attacked. The parts usually affected are those where the skin is softest and most delicate; as between the fingers, in the bend of the elbow, the inside of the arms and the thighs, the inside of the wrists, etc. The disease is sometimes confined for a long time to one or two spots, as between the fingers and the inside of the wrist, but in people with irritable skins, and who cannot avoid scratching themselves, it quickly spreads. The itch, if not cured, may last for years or for life, and although not dangerous, is a very annoying and irritating complaint. It has long been known that the disease is caused by a minute insect, which burrows under the skin. The only cause for itch is contagion, or rather by actual contact with someone or something containing the disease. It may be received directly from an individual affected, or indirectly through contact with articles of bedding or wearing apparel. Neither sex, age, season or climate, affords exemption from it, It affects high and low, rich and poor. I recollect all the children of a lady of high rank getting it; how they got it no one could tell. It is most common, however, amongst a crowded and filthy population; and hence, to be attacked with it has generally been considered as rather disgraceful, though no amount of care and cleanliness can under all circumstances guard against it. The disease is more common with children than with adults, their skin being more tender. Persons whose trades render it necessary for them to handle old clothes are particularly liable to be attacked.
If a person discovers the existence of the itch soon after it is caught; that is, when there are only one or two or three vesicles; the complaint may be readily cut short by pricking each vesicle with a needle, and rubbing in a little powdered sulphur, (brimstone.) Sometimes, bathing the affected spots three or four times a day with a solution of chloride of soda has proved effectual. But the standard remedy in all bad cases is the application of the compound sulphur ointment. Where a person is badly affected, the most thorough treatment at once is the best. A good supply of ointment being prepared, the patient should be rubbed all over, thoroughly, with the ointment spread on a small piece of soft flannel; the rubbing should be continued for half an hour; then, without wiping off the ointment, the patient should put on a pair of cotton stockings, and a long cotton shirt or nightgown. He should then go to bed for twenty-four hours. At the end of that time the ointment should be carefully washed off with plenty of soap and hot water; and a fresh supply of ointment rubbed in. He must then go to bed for twenty-four hours longer. After a careful washing, (if the ointment has been properly rubbed in,) he will be found quite cured; and the bedclothes should be carefully washed; in fact, they should be boiled, in order to destroy all risk of contagion. The clothes that have been worn should be properly fumigated, by holding them over the fumes of burning sulphur.