Follow these tips to control scabies and lice and help your child have a more comfortable summer.
With summer approaching, your child may be headed to day camp or a daycare center. Childcare facilities can often be the source of contagious bug infestations that find their way into your home. Here’s what you need to know to protect your children from two common contagious bug infestations: scabies and head lice.
Scabies is an infestation of the skin caused by Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis, the human itch mite. Not to be confused with bird mites or clover mites, adult scabies mites are less than half a millimeter long and look like tiny black dots on the skin.
Female scabies mites burrow into the upper layer of the skin, where they live and lay 10 to 25 eggs. Their track-like burrows are tiny, greyish-white or skin-colored raised serpentine lines. When the eggs hatch, the scabies mite larvae work their way to the skin’s surface, where they mature and can spread to other parts of the body or to other people. In adults and older children, scabies mites are most often found:
- Between the fingers
- In the folds of the wrists, elbows or knees
- In the armpits
- Around the waistline and navel
- On the breasts or genitals
In infants and very young children, scabies are most often found on the:
- Palms of the hands
- Soles of the feet
How do you get scabies?
Scabies mites crawl from one person to another during direct, prolonged skin-to-skin contact — meaning you’re not likely to get scabies from a brief handshake or hug. Scabies may also come from sharing the clothing, towels or bedding of an infested person. People in institutions like nursing homes or childcare facilities are at risk for scabies. Young children at a daycare center or preschool often play in ways that involve prolonged skin-to-skin contact. Preschool children may share blankets and naptime mats. If your child comes home from daycare with scabies, notify the staff.
What are the symptoms of scabies?
It can take up to six weeks for your skin to react after you’ve been exposed to scabies mites for the first time. If you’ve had scabies before, the symptoms can appear within a few days of exposure. According to the CDC, common scabies symptoms are:
- Intense itching that is usually worse at night. The itching results from an allergic reaction to the mites and their eggs and waste.
- A pimple-like itchy rash.
- Scales or blisters.
- Open sores from scratching the rash. Vigorous scratching may break the skin and allow a bacterial infection to occur.
How do you treat scabies?
Talk to your doctor when you see signs and symptoms that may indicate scabies. Your doctor will examine your skin, determine the causes of these signs and symptoms and prescribe the right treatment.
When someone is diagnosed with scabies, anyone who has close physical contact with that person — through bathing, sleeping together or prolonged holding hands — should be evaluated by a doctor. Doctors often recommend treating all household members, even those without symptoms, at the same time.
How do you control scabies?
Scabies mites can live away from a human host for up to 72 hours. To get rid of scabies in your home or childcare center:
Wash any clothes, towels and bedding used by the affected person in the last three days. Wash them in hot water and dry them in a hot dryer or take them to the dry cleaner. Place items that can’t be washed in a sealed plastic bag for seven days.
Head LiceHead lice infestation is most common among preschool and elementary school-age children and their family members and caregivers. According to the CDC, an estimated 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age. Head lice do not cause disease, so it isn’t considered a public health threat.
Head lice are greyish white parasites that can be up to one-eighth of an inch long. Head lice begin their lives as eggs, or “nits.” (Fun fact: The term “nitpicking” originated from the painstaking efforts required to go through a person’s hair for lice removal.) The female louse attaches each egg to the base of a hair near the scalp. After the eggs hatch, the nymphs (larvae) and adults feed on blood through the scalp. Because lice generally feed at night, infected people will experience the most discomfort and itching while trying to sleep.
How do you get head lice?
The most common way to get head lice is through head-to-head contact with a person who already has head lice. Such contact can be common among children during play at home or at a daycare center, preschool or school. Head lice are found almost exclusively living among hairs on the human head. Lice can survive short periods on hats, brushes, combs, pillows or towels. They will, however, die within 24 to 48 hours when they are away from their human host.
What are the symptoms of head lice?
Head lice infestations can be asymptomatic, particularly with a first infestation or when an infestation is light. Itching caused by an allergic reaction to louse bites is the most common symptom of head lice infestation. It may take four to six weeks for itching to appear the first time a person has head lice.
Per the CDC, other signs and symptoms may include:
- A tickling feeling or a sensation of something moving in the hair.
- Irritability and sleeplessness.
- Sores on the head caused by scratching, which may result in a bacterial infection.
How do you treat lice?
The presence of head lice is a medical issue. Therefore, contact your physician for diagnosis and treatment if you notice any signs and symptoms of head lice.
How do you control and prevent the spread of head lice?
Head lice can live away from their human host for one to two days. Here's what you can do to get rid of and help prevent the spread of head lice:
- After consulting your doctor, use a louse-control shampoo or similar product to kill lice.
- Use a fine-toothed comb such as a nit comb (often found in lice medicine packages) to remove lice and some nits from the hair shaft. Many flea combs made for cats and dogs are also effective for lice removal.
- Avoid head-to-head contact during play and other activities at home, school, daycare centers and camp.
- Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons or barrettes.
- Do not share combs, brushes or towels. Disinfect combs and brushes used by an infested person by soaking them in hot water (at least 130°F) for five to 10 minutes.
- Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, carpets or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
- Machine-wash and dry clothing, bed linens and other items that an infested person wore or used during the two days before treatment using the hot water (130°F) laundry cycle and the high-heat drying cycle. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry-cleaned OR sealed in a plastic bag and stored for two weeks.
- Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or lay.
- Do not use fumigant sprays or fogs; they are not necessary to control head lice and can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
- Because lice infest people, a pest management professional cannot assist in dealing with lice.
By following these tips to control scabies and lice, you'll help your child have a more comfortable experience at day camp or the daycare center.