Summer camp is an essential part of growing up for any kid that loves horses, girl and boy scouts, team sports, space, art, science, or gardening. There are so many opportunities for a child to get out and enjoy time away from home to learn while exploring the world around them. Camps come with fire pits, bunk beds, fishing and cafeteria foods that children come to love. With all that fun comes a lot of close contact- with unusual animals, nature, and other little ones. With close contact comes a variety of bugs, fungi, parasites, and inflammatory oils. Summer camp rashes are not partial to one kind of kid or a single camp, they pop up everywhere and in all types of homes. Dealing with most is a simple process but they have to be identified to be treated. Knowing the difference between different kinds of summer camp rashes is 90% of the battle.
Scabies is a painful, bumpy rash that is spread with skin-to-skin contact. The rash is caused by a tiny mite called the scabies mite that burrows under the skin and causes intense, constant itching that is usually worse at night. Crawling is their only mode of transportation, so it’s important to keep little ones with scabies infections from sharing clothing or rubbing up close with uninfected children. Even hugging can be long enough exposure to spread the mites from one person to the next. After a person is infected with scabies, they have a period when they will not experience any itching or symptoms. Scabies mites will come back from summer camp only to present as an issue in the home. There are numerous prescription creams to kill the mites and relieve the itching with only a few days. Permethrin is commonly prescribed in the US. There are not any efficient holistic treatments to kill the mite infestation and its very important to treatment them before they become a serious problem and the skin is damaged. In India, a combination of tumeric and neem oil is used, but this isn’t used much in the states, though there are positive accounts of it being useful.
Another highly contagious and common summer camp rash, especially in wrestling little boys, is ringworm. Unlike the name suggests, ringworm is not caused by a worm. Ringworm is actually caused by a fungus that grows in raised, scaly patches. Easily transferred from person to person via skin contact or contact with used sheets, towels, clothing, or on warm, wet surfaces like the shower or pool side. The rash appears quickly after contact and is usually darker on the edges, so it’s easily diagnosed. Keeping the affected area clean and dry while applying over the counter creams will clear up most ringworm within a week. For those who have a hard time fighting off the fungus, there are anti-fungal prescription medications that are available. Most kids are resilient enough to beat the fungus with only careful care and light application of medicated creams.
Bedbugs are not uncommon problems in camps where close shared sleeping accommodations are on the norm. These tiny bed fellows from the cimicidae family live in mattresses, carpets, and furniture and come out when drawn to the warmth of a human body to feed on blood. Their tiny, painless bites cause a light red rash over the affected area. They usually bite areas not covered by clothing. Itching can lead to infection but that is the most dangerous out come in most bedbug infestations. The problems can be solved by clearing them out. Washing clothing and bed linens in extremely hot water can get rid of them, while a mattress cover will keep any hidden bugs from feeding again and they will eventually die. Carpet cleaning can suck up any bugs or eggs from the carpets and they are thrown out with the water. Once the bugs are removed from the area, the rash will disappear of its own. Washing everything that comes from camp can put a stop to this summer camp rash and keep it from spreading and becoming a house hold problem.
Poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac are probably the most well known of the summer camp rashes. All three are caused by an oil that naturally protects the plant from pests that attempt to eat or move them. The oil can cause inflammation if a person comes in contact with the plant or they touch their hiking gear that came in contact with the plant (like their boots or plant legs). There are clear streaks across the skin where the leaves wiped over it. Red bumps and oozing blisters occur in most people but the severity ranges depending on just how allergic a person is to the oil. The rash is quite painful and in severe cases it may cause the eyes and throat to swell shut. A slight rash can be taken care of with home care. A warm wet cloth will relieve some of the pain, while calamine lotion gives itch relief. Oddly enough, topical allergy medicines should not be use to treat this allergic reaction to oil. They can cause their own issues. The rash will go away on its own and it not contagious. If the pain and discomfort it too much to handle, steroid injections from a physician can ease symptoms.
Keep the skin clean and dry helps to prevent and heal most of these rashes. Remind kids heading off to camp to stay in their own beds, use only their own towels, and wear only the clothing sent with them. Having a pair of shower and pool shoes keeps toes free from athletes foot. Wearing proper gear, like long sleeves and pants, when hiking can protect skin from plants and roaming bugs. Finally, the classic mother phrase of, “Keep your hands to yourself!” can help keep summer camp rashes to a minimum.