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No-Panic Guide to Kids' Cooties

What is it?
A pinhead-size brown mite that attaches itself to skin, increasing in size as it sucks up blood; can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

What to look for
If your child has been in a grassy, wooded area, regularly check her hair and body for ticks. The area around minor bites usually appears red.

What to do
Pull tick off with a pair of tweezers (save it in a jar in case you need to have it tested). Most bites don't require treatment, but see doctor if your child gets a rash, a fever, or muscle aches within a month of the bite.

How to prevent it
Dress your child in a light-colored long-sleeve shirt, and keep her pants tucked into her socks. Apply an insect repellent to exposed skin.

What is it?
An infection caused by microscopic mites that burrow under skin to lay their eggs; passed from person to person; can take up to a month for symptoms to appear.

What to look for
Intense itching; small red bumps or blisters; red streaks on the skin's surface; common on the arms, hands (especially space between fingers), and moist areas like the armpits or groin.

What to do
See your doctor, who will prescribe a cream or lotion to kill the mites. The rest of the family will need treatment too. Wash bedding, towels, and clothing in hot water.

How to prevent it
If you hear of an outbreak at school or day care, keep an eye out for the rash. Avoid contact with infected individuals.

What is it?
Tiny red mites that attach to the skin, inject saliva, feed on blood, and then fall off; often found in sandy, grassy areas.

What to look for
Small, itchy pimple or welt, similar to a mosquito bite; you'll usually find several bites in one area.

What to do
Apply hydrocortisone cream to bites; an over-the-counter oral antihistamine can also ease your child's itching. Discourage scratching, which can lead to infection.

How to prevent it
Dress your child in long sleeves and long pants if he'll be hiking or playing in fields. Use an insect repellent containing less than 10 percent DEET.

What is it?
Tiny brown-and-gray parasites that lay their eggs (nits) in human hair and draw blood from the scalp.

What to look for
An itchy scalp; lice move so quickly through hair that you may never actually see one, but you will find nits, which are white, tinier than a grain of salt, and cemented to hair shaft.

What to do
Rinse your child's hair with an over-the-counter treatment containing permethrin. Remove nits with a lice comb; also check the rest of the family for lice or nits. See your pediatrician if lice persist.

How to prevent it
Wash toys, linens, and clothes in hot water to prevent reinfestation; seal items that can't be washed in a plastic bag for two weeks. Teach kids not to share hats or brushes. Avoid contact with infected individuals.

What is it?
An infection that's caused by a fungus known as tinea, not by a worm. Kids can catch it from other children, animals (especially kittens), or soil.

What to look for
On the scalp, it causes hair loss, leaving itchy, round, red patches. Infected skin becomes scaly and red; your child may develop a ringlike lesion with a raised border and a clear center.

What to do
For scalp ringworm, see your doctor, who will prescribe an antifungal oral medication; over-the-counter creams often resolve skin infections in two to four weeks.

How to prevent it
Teach your kids not to share hats, brushes, barrettes, or towels; avoid contact with infected individuals or animals.

What is it?
An allergic reaction to microscopic parasites found in lakes, ponds, and oceans that are infested with the feces of ducks, geese, gulls, and other animals.

What to look for
Tingling, burning, or itching on uncovered areas; tiny, red pimples that last about a week.

What to do
The rash will fade on its own, but apply hydrocortisone cream and cool compresses to relieve itching.

How to prevent it
Don't let your child swim or play in shallow water (snails, which spread the parasite, are commonly found there). Have him shower immediately after leaving the water.

What is it?
Stinging larvae that come from ocean animals such as jellyfish and coral; can get trapped inside a bathing suit.

What to look for
An itchy rash of tiny red bumps often under the bathing-suit line (usually not on exposed skin); also known as seabather's eruption.

What to do
Apply hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion; rash usually fades within a week. For severe cases, see your doctor, who can prescribe a stronger anti-itch medication.

How to prevent it
Watch for beach postings of an outbreak. Have your child change out of her swimwear before showering, since fresh water can activate the stinging larvae.

What is it?
Tiny parasitic worms that live in a child's intestines and lay their eggs in the area around the anus; kids catch it by ingesting the eggs after mouthing dirty fingers or toys.

What to look for
Restless sleep; intense itching around the rectum; if you check your child's rear end at night, you may see light-colored threads on the move as the worms lay their eggs.

What to do
See your doctor, who will prescribe an oral medication for the entire family; trim your child's nails to discourage scratching and thereby minimize the spread of pinworm eggs; ease irritation with warm baths.

How to prevent it
Encourage frequent hand washing, especially after using the toilet and before meals. Thoroughly wash exposed surfaces such as bedding, clothes, eating utensils, toilet seats, and bathroom fixtures.

What is it?
Most are harmless, except for the brown recluse spider (has a violin-shaped mark on upper back) and the black widow (has a red hourglass mark on its abdomen).

What to look for
Pain, burning, itching, and redness. A brown recluse's bite develops into a bull's-eye blister that turns black. A black widow's bite may leave faint red fang marks and swell.

What to do
Wash the area with soap and water, apply an ice pack, and see the doctor right away if you suspect your child's been bitten by either of these spiders (both are usually found in warm climates).

How to prevent it
Don't let your child play in spider hideouts like cellars, closets, attics, garages, and on or near woodpiles.

What is it?
Pinhead-size brown bugs that feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals (often cats or dogs).

What to look for
Fleas don't fly but can jump from a pet onto carpeting and people. Bites appear as tiny red bumps or pustules, often on exposed skin below the knee and in a line.

What to do
Wash bites with soap and water, and apply an anti-itch cream. Discourage scratching, which can lead to infection.

How to prevent it
Talk to your vet about the best flea control for your pet; flea collars can leave chemical residues that are dangerous to kids. Use insect repellent when your child plays in a public area (like a park sandbox).

Sources: Mervyn Elgart, M.D., a professor emeritus of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical School, in Washington, D.C.; Dan Levy, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in Baltimore; Anthony J. Mancini, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Northwestern University Medical School, in Chicago.

Copyright © 2002 . Reprinted with permission from the August 2002 issue of Parents magazine.