Molluscum contagiosum is a common viral infection. These flesh-colored, dome-shaped, painless bumps are often indented on the top. The bumps may or may not be itchy. They are small, between the size of a pinhead and an eraser head (two to five millimetres). Bumps usually appear on the trunk, in the underarms, and on the arms and legs, face and neck. They can become red and inflamed if scratched. Inflamed bumps may also signal that the infection is clearing.
Scratching the bumps can spread the virus to other parts of the body or to another person. Spread is most common from direct person-to-person contact. It can also come from touching a contaminated object like a bath sponge or towel. The infection can take between two to six weeks from first exposure to the virus to the time the bumps appear. Those at risk of more serious disease include children with a weakened immune (defence) system and perhaps children with atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Individual bumps usually clear up within two months, and should totally disappear within six to 12 months. Since this infection eventually clears on its own, treatment is not necessarily needed. The advantage is that treatment may limit the spread of infection to other parts of the body or to other people. It may also prevent scarring if the lesions are very inflamed. Existing treatment options (which include scraping, freezing or burning with salicylic acid) can be painful and are not always effective. Unless you and your care provider decide treatment is necessary, general prevention measures plus waiting it out is probably best.
You can prevent the spread with frequent hand washing, teaching your child not to touch the bumps, and by not sharing personal items. Cover the bumps with clothing or bandages to prevent scratching.
Children with molluscum can still attend day care or school.
Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection that mainly affects infants and children. It is usually caused by staph bacteria (staphylococcus), and sometimes by strep bacteria (streptococcus). The bacteria invade the skin, often through a break in the skin like a small cut, scrape or a scratched bug bite.
Two types of impetigo exist. Non-bullous impetigo is more common, and usually appears as red sores on the face, especially around the nose and mouth. The bumps quickly burst, then ooze, then scab over with honey-coloured crusts. Impetigo sores are not usually itchy, and may or may not be a bit painful. Bullous impetigo causes large blisters and is less common.
Impetigo is spread through skin-to-skin contact. Scratching and touching the sores can spread the bacteria to other parts of the child’s body and to objects. (Help prevent this by covering the lesions.) Warm, humid conditions, overcrowding and contact sports such as wrestling or football may increase the risk.
If you suspect your child has impetigo, it is best to seek medical care. Treatment will help reduce spread and speed clearing. Although scarring is rare, prompt treatment may also reduce that possibility. If the infection is not severe, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic cream. Over-the-counter antibiotic creams are not usually strong enough to be effective. Sometimes a doctor will recommend an oral antibiotic (a medication that is taken by mouth). Frequent hand washing, and avoiding sharing personal items like towels and combs, can help limit the spread.
Children are contagious for 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment. Your health care provider can help decide whether your child should stay home from school or day care during that time.
Scabies is a very itchy rash caused by a mite called Sarcoptes scabiei. The rash looks like little red bumps or blisters. Sometimes a burrow (the tiny tunnel the mite makes to lay an egg) can be seen. The rash occurs in characteristic places, including the sides and webs of the fingers, around elbows, underarms, the belly button and waist, as well as knees, buttocks and thighs. Only very young children get scabies on their head. The whole body will feel itchy, and the itch is worse at night. Another clue that your child may have scabies is that other family members have a similar rash and itch.
Scabies is generally spread through direct contact with an infected person. Since mites can survive away from a host for 24 to 36 hours in colder weather, spread occasionally occurs through clothing and linens. Ordinarily, contact at school is not close enough. In Canada, outbreaks are more common in winter as children are physically closer. The mites also survive longer away from a host in colder temperatures. Symptoms of scabies typically begin three to six weeks after the first exposure.
It is hard to get rid of the scabies mite. See your doctor if you suspect you or someone in your family has scabies.
Although your doctor can test to confirm diagnosis, usually the story and the rash distribution are all that is necessary. The treatment is usually a medicated cream or lotion that is applied to the body, left on for several hours, and then washed off. Antihistamines to calm the itch may also help.
It is very important to treat everyone living in the same household at the same time, even if they do not have visible signs of mites. Clothing and linens must be washed in hot water, dried, and then bagged for several days. Seal objects that cannot be washed in a plastic bag for at least three days.
Affected children can return to day care or school after one day of treatment.
Tinea is a group of skin infections that includes athlete’s foot, jock itch and ringworm. A mould-like fungus (dermatophyte) is the cause. It can affect the scalp, feet, groin and other body surfaces. Tinea that affects other body surfaces like the arms, legs or face is called tinea corporis. It is also known as ringworm. It begins as a circular or oval red, scaly, itchy patch that spreads outwards from the center. While the border edge spreads, the central area clears, giving the rash a ring-like appearance.
Tinea is spread through close contact sports like wrestling or rugby. It also passes through clothing, combs, pool surfaces and shower floors. Since tinea is common in cats and dogs, it is possible to get infected while petting or grooming your four-legged friend. Excessive sweating and tight clothing are also risk factors, as are crowded, humid conditions.
Tinea corporis responds well to a fungus-killing medication that is applied daily to the skin. Putting steroids on the skin, even over-the-counter pharmacy versions, can make a tinea infection worse. Help reduce outbreaks by showering after close contact activities and keeping the skin dry and exposed to air.
Tinea corporis is only mildly contagious. Children should continue attending school or day care.
Skin infections like these are common and not life threatening. Good hygiene, regular hand washing, and avoiding overcrowding are often enough to avoid them. However, if your child does become infected, do not feel that you have done something wrong. Help is just a doctor’s visit away.