Back to School "Ewww"

Now that kids are back in school, they’re sharing more than vacation stories – a rise in contagious infections and conditions seems to begin as soon as the first class bell rings. What can parents do to recognize, avoid and treat these common childhood afflictions?


What is it? Pesky, parasitic insects that can be found in the hair or body surviving on human blood; they move by crawling and are between 2.1-3.3 mm in length.

How’d you catch it? “Lice are spread through head to head contact with an individual who is infested with head lice,” says Angela Shirley of The Lice Slayers in Indianapolis. “It can also be spread by sharing hats, brushes, hair ties, pillows, sheets, etc.”

Symptoms? A tickly feeling – like something is moving on your scalp. Lice are most active at night, when it is dark, so this can lead to difficulty sleeping and in turn irritability. The itching is caused by an allergic reaction to the bites of the louse. “The symptoms of head lice are an itchy scalp, a tickling feeling of something moving on the scalp or through the hair, red bite marks on the scalp from excessive scratching or a red rash on the back of the neck,” says Shirley.

How is it treated? Several methods are available to treat lice. Over the counter and prescription medications can be used. The Lice Slayers uses a system that kills lice and their eggs through dehydration in a single 30 minute process. Also, it is necessary to machine wash and dry bed linens and other items that the infested person wore or used during the two days before treatment using hot water (130 F). Combs and hairbrushes can either be boiled or replaced.

When should you see a doctor? Head to the physician’s office for recommendations if your attempt at treating lice has not been effective.


What is it? Also known as “pink eye,” because of how it turns the white of the eye a red or pink color. It can be caused by a virus, bacteria or allergen. Bacterial Conjunctivitis is the leading cause of children being absent from day care or school.

How’d you catch it? Conjunctivitis is either caused by an allergy or by coming into close contact with an infected person.

Symptoms? The whites of the eye turn pink, and there can be a green or yellow discharge that forms a sticky crust, accompanied by sensitivity to bright light.

How is it treated? “Conjunctivitis is pretty easy to diagnose – the eye is red and goopy,” says Dr. Kristen Gollnick of North Star Pediatrics. “Deciding what type of pink eye – viral, bacterial or allergic – is a little harder. In general, whether it is viral or bacterial, we treat pink eye with antibiotic drops because it is hard to distinguish between the two and because schools and daycares won’t let kids back in unless they are treated. About half the time children have pink eye, they also have an ear infection, so if they are pulling their ears or complaining of pain, or have a fever, they probably need to be seen. Otherwise many offices will just call in drops for they eye.”

When should you see a doctor? If severe redness, pain or blurred vision occur or if symptoms get worse and don’t improve, make an appointment with your doctor.


What is it? Impetigo is a common skin infection caused by Staphylococcus (staph) or Streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Red, puss-filled sores form where the bacteria have entered the skin.

How’d you catch it? This infection is a result of coming in direct contact with sores or mucus from the nose or throat of an infected person. Scratching or touching an infected area of the skin, and then touching another part of the body without washing hands can spread infection to that new area. Lesions will appear 1-3 days after the person is infected.

Symptoms? Itchy, red or pimple-like sores surrounded by red skin, which can appear anywhere on the body, but mostly on the face, arms and legs. The lesions fill with pus, then break open after a few days, and form a thick, honey-colored crust.

How is it treated?Antibiotics, in the form of an ointment or cream, are applied directly to the sore(s).

When should you see a doctor? Whenever a rash develops, it is important to visit the doctor to help determine what it is.


What is it? Strep throat is an infection in the throat and tonsils caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria (called “group A strep”).

How’d you catch it? The bacteria are spread by coming in contact with the droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.

Symptoms? Fever, nausea, difficulty swallowing and an intensely sore throat are common symptoms.

How is it treated? “You do not build up immunity to strep, so kids can get it repeatedly,” says Dr. Gollnick. “And it MUST be treated with antibiotics to prevent possible cardiac complications. The upside is that it is very easy to treat and kids feel better quickly on appropriate antibiotics.”

When should you see a doctor? See your physician if the sore throat is severe enough to disrupt a normal diet and is accompanied by a fever.

Sources: Dr. Kristen Gollnick of North Star Pediatrics in Fishers, Angela Shirley of The Lice Slayers in Indianapolis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (, Mayo Clinic (

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