Bacteria, Bugs, Fungus and Stinky Feet

Common Childhood Illnesses De-mystified

With the start of the school year, it’s time to think about protecting your children from some common childhood “ickies” such as lice, scabies, ringworm and impetigo. Though unpleasant to think about, they are even more unpleasant when they show up on your child! To find out more about bacteria, bugs and fungus, I spoke with local pediatrician Dr. John C. Knippers.

If anyone can put the fun back in FUNgus it’s Dr. Knippers. In his Donald Duck T-shirt, he’s a big man with a big smile and an even bigger heart. Dr. Knippers has been practicing medicine as well as singing and acting in local theater for over 20 years and loves what he does. “I’m Growing Older, But Not Up!” Dr. Knippers says, quoting the title of a Jimmy Buffet song.

Here’s Dr. Knippers’ lowdown on all the creepy-crawlies your child may encounter in the coming year.


On the “ick” scale, lice are right up there. Who wants parasitic insects living on their scalp and feeding on their blood (gross!). On the up side, lice aren’t dangerous, just annoying.

What to look for: Lice eggs (nits) look similar to dandruff, only you can’t brush them away. Look for nits around the nape of the neck and in the hair behind the ears. You may also catch sight of the sesame seed-sized louse crawling around on your child’s head.

The Kill: Over-the-counter (OTC) products are available to kill lice and eggs; however, lice have gotten increasingly resistant to these products. Dr. Knippers’ favorite treatment is mayonnaise!

“Mayonnaise is a great cure,” says Dr. Knippers. “It is non-toxic and easily washed out.” However, Dr. Knippers warns that lowfat mayo doesn’t work. So, buy the full fat variety, slather it generously on your child’s head, pop on a shower cap and leave for several hours or overnight. Louse problem solved!

Follow up: Once the lice are killed, it’s time to nit pick, literally. Each nit must be picked off the hair shafts. Wash all bed linens and recently worn clothing in very hot water and dry in a hot dryer. Items that can’t be washed should be placed in airtight bags for two weeks.

Prevention: Children should be taught never to share hats, brushes, combs, barrettes, helmets or hair ties and should avoid lying on pillows or other bedding used by others.


Another creepy-crawly you hope your child never gets are scabies. According to Dr. Knippers, scabies are a highly contagious mite that burrows under your child’s skin to lay their eggs (yuck!). The itching caused by scabies is intense.

What to look for: Consider scabies if your child has oval shaped, intensely itchy lesions, especially in between the fingers.

The Kill: See your doctor for prescription medication.

Follow up: Clothing, sheets and towels must be washed in hot water and your house thoroughly vacuumed. After vacuuming, the vacuum cleaner bag should be thrown away immediately.

Prevention: Avoid physical contact with people who have scabies.


Despite it’s name, ringworm is not a worm, but a fungus. Either way it’s ewwwie!

What to look for: Ringworm starts small and grows in a circular pattern. As it gets bigger, its borders are red and raised, but the center clears. It’s highly contagious and itchy.

The Kill: OTC creams such as Tinactin are usually effective; however, many fungi are now resistant to antifungal creams. If creams don’t begin to shrink the lesion, see your doctor for prescription medication.

Prevention: Avoid contact with people who have ringworm. Wash hands after contact with pets.


Impetigo (often mispronounced “infantigo”) is a highly contagious skin infection caused by strep or staph bacteria that (this is really gross!) colonize in the nasal passages. According to Dr. Knippers, impetigo caused by the MRSA (antibiotic resistant bacteria) is an increasing problem.

What to look for: Impetigo starts as a red spot which becomes a blister. When the blister breaks, it forms a scab that looks “honey-crusted.” Common places for impetigo to develop are around the nose, mouth, hands and forearms.

The Kill: Impetigo can usually be treated with OTC antibiotic ointment. Dr. Knippers recommends that if one person in the family has impetigo, all family members should treat possible nasal colonies by applying antibiotic ointment on a cotton swab around the inside of the nose. If the infection doesn’t respond to OTC medications, see your pediatrician.

Follow up: The infected person’s towels, bed linens and clothing (and, I would guess, nose!) should be kept separate from other family member’s items. All personal items should be washed in hot water.

Prevention: Soap and water are bacteria’s worst nightmare! Children should be taught to wash their hands frequently, especially if they are in close contact with other children who may be infected.

Stinky Feet

The reason feet stink is because bacteria are down there chowing on dead skin cells and excreting smelly organic acids! Pretty darn icky, huh? Some people (especially teenage boys) have extra stinky feet because they have extra sweaty feet that become home to an extra stinky bacteria. (Extra icky!)

The Kill: Feet need to be dried out if they harbor the extra stinky variety of bacteria. Shoes should be alternated so that one pair can dry out while the other pair is worn. Feet should be washed daily with antibacterial soap and thoroughly dried. Clean cotton socks should be worn. If the stink continues, a special medication called Drysol can be prescribed to dry out the skin of the feet. As Dr. Knippers says, “When it’s dry, bacteria die!”

Follow up: Throw those old, nasty, extra stinky, bacteria laden sneakers away!


Categories: Infant/Pre-School, Little Ones