The Skin Infections Your Child Can Bring Back from Camp
Your child can come back from summer camp with more than just memories of campfires and swimming in the lake. Every summer I get frantic calls from parents whose children have picked up some form of skin infection. Here are the most common skin ailments that can be present at even the best-run camp:
1) Impetigo, a highly contagious bacterial infection. If one child at camp has it, odds are that at least several others will, too, since it is transmitted through skin contact or by shared towels and clothing. If your child has yellow or honey colored crusts on the skin, usually on the face, make an immediate appointment with a dermatologist. Treating impetigo requires a course of antibiotics, usually lasting 10 days.
2) Warts. Children seem to be far more susceptible to warts than adults, and in my practice I certainly see a lot of children with warts, commonly on the hands, feet and legs. Warts are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is easily transmitted from one infected child to another. Warts are painless and most children barely notice them, but they can be surprising tenacious and difficult to eradicate. Dermatologists usually freeze them off or prescribe a course of creams that stimulate the immune system. Unfortunately, warts also have a nasty habit of recurring, either on the same place or in another part of the body, so several visits to the dermatologist may be necessary.
3) Molluscum contagiosum, despite its exotic name, is just another form of warts, and transmitted the same way. Ordinary warts are rough (imagine a tiny cauliflower), while molluscum warts are smooth and white. However, they are treated with the same methods as ordinary warts.
4) Fungal infections. Tinea can appear anywhere on the body, and is given different names, depending on what part of the body is affected: athlete’s foot, jock itch, or tinea capitus (on the scalp). I urge every parent to make sure to pack shower flipflops, and to impress upon their child the need to use them every time. It is really, really easy to pick up a foot fungal infection at camp. And while I know that children in the same bunkhouse or tent think nothing of sharing their brushes, clothes and shoes, that’s an almost certain way to spread fungal infections.
5) Lice. I can’t even begin to number the people I know whose children caught lice at summer camp – suffice to say it’s a lot. It happens for the same reason lice is an endemic problem in schools: children think nothing of sharing their personal items, whether it’s scarves and hats in winter, or brushes and baseball caps at camp.
6) Scabies, microscopic mites that live in the skin and come out at night. The classic symptom is intense itchiness that gets worse at night. Treating scabies requires not just applying creams to the entire body, but meticulous washing of all linens, towels and clothes in very hot water.
Bottom line: Make sure your child goes off to camp with shower flipflops and stern warnings not to share any personal items. And if your child calls to report itching or weird white bumps, call the camp nurse immediately.