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Back-To-School Cooties In Georgia

August 9, 2016
Nurse examining boy.

Perhaps you’ve heard the horror stories: Super lice, pinworms and other parasites that kids bring home from school. Learn to spot the signs if your child is infected and and how to protect your family from common childhood cooties.

It doesn’t matter how clean you keep your home, how well you feed your kids or how much you wash and preach good hygiene, if you have a child in school or daycare, chances are strong that you will deal with one of these pesky childhood infections.


Pinworms, the most common parasite in the United States, live in the intestine. They look like very fine threads. Adult pinworms can reach about half an inch long. The eggs are microscopic. Most kids get pinworms by swallowing pinworm eggs. It takes a month for the eggs to hatch into worms. Pinworms are bothersome, but they don’t carry disease and are rarely fatal.

How Pinworms Spread

These little buggers can live 2-3 weeks outside the body on any surface. Small children who put everything in their mouth, including their hands, are very susceptible to getting infected and it’s not uncommon to get infected more than once because kids tend to swap it back and forth. If one person in your family has pinworms, others probably do too.

Pinworm Symptoms

Pay attention to itchy bottoms. Pinworms come out at night to lay their eggs near the anus. If you suspect your child has pinworms, take a look at their hiney with a flashlight at bedtime and look for tiny white threads. At first, pinworms may look like remnants of toilet paper. Take a closer look to see if they move. If so, bingo, you’ve found pinworms.  

How To Get Rid of Pinworms

Your whole family needs to be treated for pinworms. Even if they show no symptoms, it’s very likely patient zero who likes to put things in her mouth and give you wet, slobbery kisses, has transmitted eggs all around the house. Wash all bedding in hot water. Bleach Clorox the heck out of your kitchen and bathroom. Throw those bath mats in the wash.

As for your bodies: get two treatments of over-the-counter pinworm medication per person. Because the medication kills the pinworms but not the eggs you will need to repeat treatment two weeks apart. Pinworm medication is usually a chalky liquid you drink. It sometimes comes in a banana flavor. You know, for the kids.


Giardia is an intestinal parasite usually transmitted by contaminated drinking water or recreational water. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Giardiasis is the most frequently diagnosed intestinal parasitic disease in the United States and among travelers with chronic diarrhea.

How Giardia Spreads

Giardia is transmitted from contaminated food or water and spreads fairly easily from animals to humans. The family pet could easily get infected as well as people. Kids who have spent their summer days near lakes, pools, rivers or any number of outdoor camps could have the parasite and not even know.

Giardia Symptoms

Not everyone has symptoms of this infection and could be carriers without even knowing. However, some of the more common signs of Giardia are: greasy stool, violent diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach cramps and nausea. If your child is experiencing dehydration and weight loss get immediate treatment. A typical infection lasting 2-6 weeks can be mild and resolve without treatment. In other cases however, it can last longer and be more severe.

How to Get Rid of Giardia

Many people with symptoms usually get better within a few weeks. Antibiotics are used to treat people infected with giardia. Metronidazole (Flagyl) is the most commonly used antibiotic for those whose symptoms persist.


Ringworm is not actually a worm. It is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin or scalp that spreads out in rings. The dermatophyte that cause ringworm irritate the skin as they live off the dead tissues of your skin, hair and nails. Ringworms prefer warm, moist areas of your body.

How Ringworms Spread

There are a variety of ringworms and, in most cases, it can be prevented with good hygiene. Ringworm of the scalp usually affects kids in late childhood or adolescence and can spread from sharing hats, combs or brushes. Ringworm in the foot is known as athlete's foot. Kids pick this up in the locker room or public showers. (It’s a good idea to wear flip flops in the shower when camping.) Ringworm of the body can be contracted from towels, clothes or sports equipment.

Ringworm Symptoms

When the fungus affects the skin, you many notice itchy, scaly red patches that can turn into blisters and ooze. The round rash has sharply defined edges — redder around the outside with normal skin tone in the center. This creates the appearance of a ring. Skin can also appear unusually dark or light.  

How to Get Rid of Ringworms

Depending on where the ringworms are and how serious the infection is, the treatment for ringworm varies. Antifungal cream (prescription and over-the-counter) is usually the first course of action. However, antifungal pills may be prescribed for extensive infections. Oral medications for ringworm include itraconazole (Sporanox), terbinafine (Lamisil), fluconazole (Diflucan) and griseofulvin (Grisactin).


Lice are teeny tiny parasites that live in human hair. They feed off tiny amounts of blood from the scalp and lay eggs (called “nits”) on the hair shaft near the head. Lice love school kids. They are highly contagious and sometimes, very hard to get rid of. Recently, a new species of lice called “super lice” has been discovered that appears to be resistant to the normal, pesticide shampoo typically used for treatment.

How Lice Spread

Lice spread quickly fast among kids at schools, camps, school buses and slumber parties. Kids mostly get lice from laying on the same bedding as someone else with lice, sharing hats, combs or clothing and close physical contact. Lice can’t fly or jump but they can move from head to head. It only takes two kids taking a selfie together and boom, they’re in.

Lice Symptoms

Kids with lice have itchy heads so they scratch a lot. Lice like the hair at the nape of the neck and behind the ears. They skin where your child has been scratching may be red. If you get a notice from school or child daycare saying there has been a reported case of lice, start inspecting and catch it early.

Lice are not easy to spot. They are really tiny, move fast and have super clingy claws to attach to the hair strand. Look very carefully through the scalp with a flashlight and even a magnifying glass. Nits (the eggs) are tiny white specks that look like dust or dandruff but don’t come out because they are “glued” to the hair shaft. The gluey substance used to attach eggs is often what causes irritation and makes kids itch.  

How to Get Rid of Lice

Getting rid of lice is a process. In most cases, everyone in the family needs to be checked thoroughly and treated with lice shampoo (which is essentially pesticide.) The shampoo only kills the adult lice and does not remove the eggs. You must use a special nit comb on wet hair with a special gel to remove the nits and repeat the process again in a week.

A louse can survive off the body for about 24 hours. This is why it is imperative that you scrub your entire house. Pillows, bedding, couches, carpet, stuffed animals, blankets and anything else that you come into contact with should be sprayed down or washed.


Scabies is a highly infectious skin disease caused by the human itch mite. Kids and adults get scabies when the mite burrows into the top layer of skin to live and feed causing an extremely itchy rash to develop.

How Scabies Spread

It’s very easy for school aged children to get scabies from skin-on-skin contact with another infected child. The itch mites are common in crowded places like dorms, camps, classrooms, and daycares. They can survive about 2 to 3 days when they are not on a human body. It’s possible (though not common) to pick up mites that cause scabies from towels, clothes or sheets recently used by someone who has scabies.

Scabies Symptoms

Scabies are painfully and relentlessly itchy. The mites usually cause a bumpy red rash on the skin and children often get open sores from scratching. For first time scabies patients, it may take 4-6 weeks before a rash even shows. If your child has had scabies before, the body may recognize it and react quicker with a visible rash.

How to Get Rid of Scabies

Doctors prescribe a cream to treat and kill the mites that cause scabies below the face. It’s normal for the itching to continue several weeks after the treatment is used and the mites are killed. For itch relief, you can use over-the-counter creams. Doctors may recommend that the whole family gets treatment as a precaution. As with other parasites, it is necessary to wash all clothing, bedding and furniture so you don’t get reinfected.

Stay on the Lookout

Because kids are not great at keeping their hands to themselves or washing them properly, they are prime targets for these common parasitic infections. If stressing the importance of personal space and good hygiene doesn’t seep through to your child, a case of the cooties will likely be a lesson they don’t forget. When your child starts to complain of itching, investigate the cause immediately and stay notified of reported cases in your area so you can catch it and treat it early on.

About the Author

April Lentini is the Content Strategist for GeorgiaGov. She empowers content managers for government agencies, helping them understand and improve their website content for optimal usability.

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