Preventing Annoying Back to School Infections
There’s peace in my house as all the kids are back to school but the return to school also means the return of annoying school infections such as pink eye and lice. I want to share my tips to keep those infections out of your house this year.
1. ABCs: Allergies, Bacteria and Colds
These three account for the most common infections in children and can all be prevented with hand washing, covering mouths while coughing and not sharing drinks and utensils.
Just one lesson on hand hygiene where students ages 5-15 learned to clean hands 3xs during the school day decreased 4 or more sick days by 66 percent according to the American Journal of Infection Control.
Most importantly have kids wash their hands when they come home from school to keep germs out of the house. They should also wash their noses with normal saline spray to prevent allergy outbreaks. If they do become ill then wash their toothbrush in the dishwasher or replace it to prevent reinfection.
2. Pink Eye
Pink eye is conjunctivitis or inflammation (swelling) of the conjunctiva—the thin layer that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye.
The most common causes of conjunctivitis are viruses, bacteria, and allergens.
Symptoms include red eyes, crusty eyelids in the morning, itchy eyes, tearing and blurred vision.
Is typically mild, with symptoms being the worst on days 3–5 of infection. The condition usually clears up in 7-14 days without treatment but may take 2-3 weeks.
Many cases improve without treatment but topical antibiotics are often prescribed.
Wash your hands often with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand gel, especially after applying eye ointment.
Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
Wash any discharge from around the eyes several times a day but use different cloths on each eye.
Wash pillowcases, sheets, washcloths, and towels in hot water and detergent.
Don’t share tissues, towels, washcloths, eye makeup or eye drops with other people.
When treating allergic conjunctivitis dust and vacuum often to reduce allergens in your home and close windows when the pollen count is high.
3. Head Lice
6 to 12 million cases of head lice infestation occur each year in the United States in children ages, 3 to 11 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are tiny parasitic bugs that don’t spread disease and spread mainly by direct head-to-head contact with a person who already has head lice. Lice don’t fly or jump; they move by crawling.
Every parent should check regularly for lice by parting the hair in several spots. Lice can move fast so use a magnifying glass and a bright light. Nits can look like dandruff, but stay firmly attached to the hair if you pull your fingernail across the hair while dandruff will come off easily.
Most important for lice treatment is to use a fine-toothed comb or special “nit comb” to remove dead lice and nits that can be used with or without chemical treatment.
Don’t share hairbrushes, combs, hair ornaments, scarves, bandanas, towels, or helmets. Girls with long hair should keep their hair braided and pulled back. Avoid head-to-head contact during play or slumber parties
When your child returns from a sleep over put everything in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes. This treatment will also kill bedbugs.
Machine wash and dry clothing, bed linens, and other items using hot water (130°F) and dry on high heat. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag and stored for two weeks. Head lice survive less than one or two days if they fall off the scalp and cannot feed.
Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the person with lice sat or lay.
Disinfest combs and brushes used by a person with head lice by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for 5–10 minutes. After finishing treatment with lice medication, check everyone in your family for lice after one week.
4. Molluscum Contagiosum
MC are pink, white or flesh-colored bumps caused by a type of poxvirus. It is common in kids ages 1 to 10 but many parents have never heard of it. Molluscum contagiosum is very contagious, mainly through skin-to-skin contact or contact with contaminated objects, such as clothing, towels or toys.
Once someone has the virus, the bumps can spread to other parts of their body by touching or scratching a bump and then touching another part of the body. Molluscum can also be spread by sexual contact. There has been a relationship of catching molluscum by shared swimming pools, baths, saunas, or other wet and warm environments, this has not been proven. Most likely sharing towels and other items around a pool or sauna than through the water spread the virus.
Prevention: Hand hygiene and not sharing personal items, including towels are the best ways to avoid this skin infection, which typically clears up without treatment in 6 to 12 months. Do not shave or have electrolysis on areas with bumps. If you have bumps in the genital area, avoid sexual activities until you see a health care provider.
To prevent the spread of molluscum to other areas of your body or to other people, it is important to keep every blister or bump covered either with clothing or with a watertight bandage
There are many treatment options including Cryotherapy (freezing), Curettage (removes the fluid inside the bumps), Lasers and Creams that include certain chemicals (i.e., salicylic acid, podophyllin, tretinoin, and cantharidin). There is also a newer cream (imiquimod) that helps strengthen the skin’s immune system.
Mollusscum is tough to treat when it spreads and I have used imiquimod on my own children with great success. It needs to be used every night, is expensive, may cause irritation but is safe.
A home remedy that may be worth trying is apple cider vinegar or ACV. There are several options but one is to soak a cotton ball with ACV and tape it to the MC overnight. There can be some irritation and stinging. Some have reported just soaking in a bath nightly with ½ cup of ACV will work too. Others advocate popping the MC with a sterilized needle then applying the ACV that is very similar to the curettage that we do in the office. I do not recommend popping at home as you may spread the infection or cause a bacterial infection but I would try the ACV nightly bandage option.
Being a parent is never easy. Here is hoping for a Happy Healthy School Year!