Lice

A healthy child is a productive child. Our goal in the West Shore School District is to make your child’s school experience as healthy as possible. Despite all efforts to minimize illness, any place where children are in close proximity to one another (sporting events, dance classes, play-dates, sleep-overs, church activities, scouting events, local parks and playgrounds, shopping centers and schools) allows for the exposure of a child to contagious illnesses and the dreaded incursion of head lice. 

Unfortunately, head lice have been in existence for thousands of years and will continue to be commonly found in all locations where humans reside, including all schools.  As such, there are two important research facts that need to be considered when understanding and detecting head lice in your child.  First, research shows that the average head has been infested with lice for at least one month prior to the development of symptoms.  Research also shows that two-thirds of parents fear the negative connotations that arise from the word lice and do not share incidents of lice with the school. For this reason, school most often does not know a child has an active lice infestation unless the child is scratching excessively or a louse or nit is visibly seen on the head.   So, "What is a parent to do?", you might ask.

The good news is, armed with some basic knowledge and by carrying out a few easy steps; a proactive parent can lessen the likelihood of their child developing a lice infestation.  As parents, we are always on the lookout for the obvious sneezes, sniffles and coughs, but often forget to do a weekly inspection of our child’s head for lice. Therefore, a weekly a head check performed by a parent/guardian, is key in the early detection and treatment of head lice.  As such, the health services department would like to share some important reminders about head lice.

The head louse lays its nits (eggs) on the hair shaft near the scalp. A live louse and its nits are most often found behind a child’s ears, in bangs and at the base of the neck. The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed (2-3 mms) in length. The nits look like a fleck of dandruff; they do not brush off the hair shaft, but instead need to be scraped off with your fingernail.  To help you deal with this common problem, the following preventative measures are suggested

  1. Always check your child’s head at least once a week throughout the school year.  Be vigilant; do not wait to hear that another child has lice before you begin to check your own child for lice.  Please remember there always have been and always will be lice anywhere children gather, including our schools. 
  2. Remind your children to avoid head-to-head contact with other children and not to share their hats, combs, brushes, barrettes, and headphones with others.  Remind your pre-teens and teens that selfie photos are a large culprit in the transmission of lice. 

  3. Be sure to wash your child’s hair frequently.  Keep hair contained in ponytails, braids and buns.

  4. Be mindful of the early warning signs such as head scratching or the appearance of white specks that remain in the hair.

  5. Wash hats, scarves, hair ribbons, combs, brushes, and other hair accessories at least once a week.

  6. Outer clothing that comes in contact with the head or neck should be washed frequently.

  7. Inspect your child’s head especially before and after a group activity such as a slumber party or camping activity.

  8. If lice are found, have a high index of suspicion that many, if not all, family members may also be infested and treat accordingly.

  9. Stop the spread of lice.  Notify neighbors, friends, and playmates that you know have had head-to-head contact with your child.

In spite of all these precautions, your child may still get head lice if the appropriate conditions occur. A head louse’s only requirement is a warm host on which to live and breed.  Head lice do not discriminate by socioeconomic class and are just as happy living in “clean” as well as “dirty” hair.  If your child happens to acquire lice, don’t panic, head lice are pests, but do not carry any diseases.  Our best advice to parents is to treat ALL family members that are infested with a commercially approved louse killing shampoo, remove ALL nits so they do not hatch and re-infest the head, and treat all surfaces that a head or hair may have come in contact with in the home.  A second option is to seek the assistance of a professional lice removal clinic.  Despite all your efforts, lice can be very frustrating and difficult to eradicate.  Through years of experience in dealing with lice, school nurses have found that the more effort you put into their initial removal, the better chance you have of totally eliminating a reoccurrence of lice. 

On the school front, please be assured that if the school district becomes aware of a case of head lice we will follow the latest expert recommendations from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatric Physicians on the management of head lice in the school environment. If you have questions about your child’s head lice, or if you find head lice in your child’s hair, please contact the school nurse.  We understand that some parents may fear the perceived stigma that can be associated with head lice, therefore, may be hesitant to report this information to the school.  Please be assured that the school will not share this information with others, as is our practice with any non-life threating condition, and will maintain your child’s medical privacy.  Your child’s school nurse would like to be a trusted resource and hopes parents/guardians are comfortable coming to us so we can convey our knowledge and help you eradicate head lice in your home, and thus our schools. 

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