Common Back to School Skin Infections

Head liceWe’ve slathered them with sunscreen all summer and forced them to wear shirts and hats on the beach. Now, as we send them back to school, our kids may be exposed to common skin infections, more likely to break out in groups where they play, roughhouse, and sometimes share personal items.

Here are 3 common conditions to be aware of as your family settles into new school-based routines:

Millions of young school children in the United States suffer from head lice. Lice can infest anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, sex, or cleanliness, but it is more common among younger white female children. Lice are very small parasites that live in the scalp and feed on blood. They lay eggs (called nits) that glue themselves to the hair shaft. A new louse emerges in just over a week. If your child complains of an itchy scalp, consider the possibility of head lice. Learn more about self-care guidelines and when to seek medical care in the case of head lice.

There are many effective treatment options to consider for lice. Commonly used medications include permethrin, malathion, pyrethrin, and lindane. Alternative approaches can include ivermectin, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole (TMP/SMX), and shaving the scalp hair. Often, treatment needs to be repeated, as nits can be resistant to therapy.

Warts are incredibly common growths caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely tenacious virus. Infection often starts with just one lesion, but it can rapidly spread to form dozens of similar growths. There are many variants of the virus, and each tends to affect specific areas of the body, such as the hands, feet, and elbows. Fortunately, most warts are painless and do not cause any serious overall heath problems. Learn more about self-care guidelines and when to seek medical care in the case of common warts.

Wart treatment can be frustrating, as it may take many sessions to banish them, and even when cleared, warts often recur. Typical treatments include blistering agents such as cantharidin, liquid nitrogen, and podophyllin. Laser treatment, imiquimod, and salicylic acid can be helpful as well.

Molluscum Contagiosum
It is not uncommon to see this fairly contagious viral infection in all the children in a family. The infection shows up as dozens of molluscum lesions – small skin-colored bumps, sometimes surrounded by redness and containing a small opening at the very top. If your children are very active, be observant: think about all the games of touch football they’ve tumbled through and all the shared towels after dips in the pool, etc. That’s exactly how this virus spreads – shared towels and physical play. Learn more about self-care guidelines and when to seek medical care in the case of molluscum contagiosum.

Treatment of molluscum is very similar to treatment of HPV (above). Many of the same therapies are used and are very effective in eliminating the growths. Unfortunately, as lesions are treated, new lesions frequently appear, mandating frequent follow-up treatments.

To keep such common infections at bay in your house, institute weekly “skin scans” to inspect your children’s scalp, elbows, hands, and knees. They may complain, but keep your eyes open and catch common infections in the early stages.

Published on 09/08/2009 | Last updated on 10/18/2018