Fort Worth, Texas,
10:49 AM

“Eww, cooties”

The Doc Smitty on lice, scabies and yes, cooties

Time for school, which means shopping for school supplies, meet the teacher night and contracting parasites. Many diseases increase in frequency when you gather school aged children back together again for the start of the year (common colds and strep throat are great examples). Today, I am going to talk about three parasites that tend to cause outbreaks in school classrooms.

Head lice

Head lice are common; some consider their acquisition a rite of passage for elementary school. They are parasitic insects that live on the scalp and cause itching. They are not dangerous but very annoying and can be identified by finding their characteristic eggs (called nits). Less commonly, a caregiver can find live lice moving on the scalp. Treatment most often involves using medicated shampoo. A few tips on treatment:

  1. There are many great over the counter shampoos. Follow the written directions closely as too much could be harmful and too little will not be effective. Contact your pediatrician if things are not improving.
  2. Many doctors recommend clearing the nits off the scalp with a fine-tooth comb.
  3. Many shampoos require a repeat dose in one week.


Scabies are less common than head lice. but equally annoying and also not dangerous. The mites that cause scabies burrow down just under the top layer of skin and cause severe itching and a fine red rash. It is common to find the rash on the wrist and between fingers and toes. Diagnosis requires a visit to the doctor who generally makes the diagnosis based on the story and the characteristic rash. Treatment involves applying a cream to the skin to kill the mite.A few tips on treatment:

Apply the cream to all skin from the neck to the toes, not just the area with the rash.Leave the cream on for 8-12 hours (overnight works great).Wash all sheets and towels the next morning on the hottest cycle of your washing machine.Repeat the treatment in 1 week.


Cooties are the most common parasite in the elementary age child. All children at one point or another have been exposed to and contracted cooties. Cooties are contracted by close contact with another child of the same age, but opposite gender. Diagnosis is sometimes difficult, but it is pretty safe to assume that all children ages 4-10 are infected at all times. There is no treatment for cooties although it is thought that passing them on to another child does provide some temporary relief.

Thankfully, there is a vaccination for cooties which your child's friend can provide by tracing a circle on your child’s arm and reciting, “Circle, circle, dot, dot…now you have the cootie shot."


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