Preschoolers who attend day care pass germs around as if they were crayons. Certain conditions are therefore more common among children in day care. Although most of the following conditions might be avoided through good hygienic practices, don't be surprised if your child brings one of these home from day care along with his valentines and other school projects:
- Head Lice (Nits) These hard-to-see parasites attach pale gray or white oval eggs (called nits) to the hair, especially at the base of the scalp. They may make your preschooler's head itchy, especially during hot weather. Contracting head lice is not a sign of poor hygiene: Any self-respecting louse actually prefers clean hair to dirty hair.
To reduce the risk of contracting head lice, discourage your child from sharing hats, combs, hair bands, barrettes, and hair ribbons with other children.
If your preschooler comes home with head lice, call your pediatrician. He or she will probably recommend a shampoo that should quickly take care of the problem. (You should probably treat every member of the household.) After shampooing, comb the hair out with a fine-toothed comb to remove the dead eggs. (Rinsing the hair with diluted vinegar may make it easier to get the nits out.) You also should use the shampoo to wash all combs, hairbrushes, hats, and other headwear. Because the treatment is so effective, your child may return to day care immediately after beginning the prescription.
- Ringworm A highly contagious and itchy fungal infection, ringworm produces scaly, red or gray patches on the skin or small bald areas on the scalp. The center of the round or oval patch may clear, but the outside ring will remain scaly (hence the name).
If your child contracts ringworm, call your pediatrician. If the ringworm is in your child's scalp, your doctor will prescribe an oral medication. Otherwise, he or she will probably prescribe an antifungal cream. Because ringworm is highly contagious and spread through direct contact, have your child wash his hands with an antibacterial soap whenever he touches the area (even to put on his medication). If you apply the medication for him, wash your hands immediately afterward, too.
- Pinworms These worms lay eggs around the anus. The eggs can cause irritation (an itching or tickling sensation) around the anus, especially at night. You might notice the little white worms in your preschooler's bowel movements. Pinworms pass from child to child. The worm eggs may be ingested by a child who eats with his hands after washing his hands poorly (or not at all). The eggs then hatch, producing larvae inside the intestines.
If your child has pinworms, your whole family may need to take medication prescribed by your pediatrician. Wash often and thoroughly with an antibacterial soap. Have your child wear underwear when in bed to discourage scratching, and keep your child's fingernails short.