It’s the time of year when many kids are heading back to school and teens are heading off to college.
There are several common skin infections that get passed around very easily that parents should be aware of. Some of these can be from skin-to-skin contact or sharing towels, clothes and bedding; some of it’s from sharing sports equipment and some of it can occur due to living in close quarters such as living with a new roommate at college.
The first infection parents should know about is scabies. It’s a tiny skin mite that burrows under the skin. It can lay eggs and can also defecate under the skin which can create a sensitivity reaction in some people. Unfortunately you can have the mites living in your skin for two to six weeks before you actually begin to develop skin symptoms and the itching and scratching that can come along with it.
When you do see a skin rash, it will look like tiny, little, red dots that look like pimples. They may become an open sore and ooze a little bit.
Very common locations for this infection to occur are around the wrists, between fingers, around the area where a bra or underwear may sit, or the waist band of the pants. Some toddlers may have the rash in the diaper area, which can be misdiagnosed as diaper rash.
If someone in the household has the scabies infection and doesn’t realize it, it’s very easily spread to everyone else in the household through skin contact and the sharing of bedding. All household members should be treated at the same time even if only one person has active symptoms. There are some prescription lotions that are used to treat the infection and all bedding needs to be washed and dried at very high temperature.
Ringworm, also known as tinea, is not actually caused by a worm; it’s caused by a fungus. There can be various names used for this infection depending on where it’s found on the body. Jock itch and athlete’s foot are common forms of this fungus.
Most of these lesions will look pretty similar; you will see a ring of very, red, raised, inflamed tissue which may also have some scaling. The skin in the center of the ring may be a little red or may have gone back to a more normal color. The size of the ring may increase over the days and weeks if left untreated.
The most common transmission for this infection is skin-to-skin contact. It also spreads easily from used towels, clothing and sports equipment because fungi can live on moist environments for a long period of time. It’s important to wash and disinfect these items to help prevent the spread of the infection.
We encourage people to wear sandals and shower shoes in public bathrooms as the fungus can live on the surfaces in the bathroom.
Ringworm also can be passed from a dog or cat to a human, so if you see an animal with a bald patch, you might want to limit contact until they are treated.
There are lots of over-the-counter treatments that can be used on the fungus. There are also prescription-grade medications that can be used if necessary. Treatment commonly takes 4-8 weeks.
Molluscum Contagiosum is an infection commonly found in young children that is passed by skin-to-skin contact, especially if someone has infected skin and they scratch the lesions and then touch another person.
The virus burrows into the skin, causes the skin to react by creating tiny, flesh colored pearls that are very firm. They will sometimes have a little dimple in the middle of them. They are usually not itchy, but they drive people crazy because it’s not something that’s supposed to be on your skin.
When the body begins to fight the infection, the little pearls can become red, inflamed and a little sore. This is a good sign as it shows infection is nearing its end.
We don’t tend to recommend aggressive treatment of this skin infection because it will resolve on its own. Trying to remove the lesions can lead to scarring.
It’s important that parents not let little ones pick at the lesions as it can lead to cosmetic changes that are permanent or a secondary infection.
Warts are caused by a virus, not by kissing toads. This infection is caused by the human papillomavirus, which is the same kind of virus that we associate with things like genital warts and certain types of cancer. The strain of HPV that causes most warts is not covered by the HPV vaccine unfortunately.
This virus burrows under the skin. The skin’s reaction is to create a thick callous over the top of the affected skin. They occur mostly on the hands and feet and more than 90 percent of these warts will go away within three years on their own.
Most people don’t want to wait that long, so there are a lot of over-the-counter medications that families can try first. There is also literature suggesting that if you use an over-the-counter salicylic acid and cover the area with duct tape, the duct tape will help make the wart go away faster if the treatment is repeated each day. Using duct tape on its own has not been proven to be successful.
One type of warts that also can occur are plantar warts, which occur on the foot. Lots of college kids will get these if they don’t wear shower shoes in community bathrooms. Difficult to treat warts can be “frozen” in the physician’s office and often require several treatments a few weeks apart until the wart is fully destroyed and the skin begins to heal normally.