Head lice are a common problem in schools throughout the nation. Over the years, head lice have developed somewhat of a resistance to some of the treatments, likely due to the improper use of these medications. Lice do not respect race, religion, age, social status or education. Though they do not pose a major health problem, they can be very irritating. This letter is designed to give you some general information about head lice and to enlist your help in preventing a problem in our schools during the school year.
How do you recognize the problem?
- Itching of the scalp or persistent scratching.
- Seeing live lice: These are brown, grayish-white or may assume the color of the person’s hair and are about the size of small ants. Lice or nits should not be confused with dandruff which is thin and flaky.
- Seeing lice eggs (nits) attached to the hair shaft near the scalp: Nits are shiny, grayish-white ovals that may look like or be mistaken for dandruff or droplets of hairspray but cannot be “flicked off.”
- In general, nits that are < 1cm from the scalp are considered “unhatched” or live nits and should be removed. Those nits > 1cm from the scalp have likely hatched and no longer pose a problem.
How do you get head lice?
- Head lice do NOT hop, jump or fly. They are transmitted through direct head-to-head contact.
- It is not as likely but also possible to acquire head lice by means of combs, brushes, hats, wigs or other objects that come in contact hair.
How do you control head lice?
It is the responsibility of the parents to inspect their children’s hair. Schools cannot assume this responsibility on a regular basis.
- Teach children not to share hats, coats, head gear, combs or brushes.
- Inspect hair weekly or more often for the presence of lice and/or nits.
- If lice and/or nits are found, treat promptly and according to the directions accompanying the product used.
How do you treat head lice?
- Inspect the hair of all family members and treat those infested. Anyone sharing a bed with an infested person should be treated as a precaution, even if no lice are seen.
- Most treatments consist of applying a special medication to the scalp and hair following package directions. These preparations can be purchased at most pharmacies. There are also prescription treatments available. Read instructions carefully especially noting if the preparation is applied to wet or dry hair. IT MUST BE STRESSED THAT THESE PRODUCTS ARE STRONG CHEMICALS AND THUS SHOULD NOT BE OVER-USED, AND A DOCTOR SHOULD BE CONSULTED BEFORE USING THEM ON INFANTS OR VERY YOUNG CHILDREN.
- Nit removal may be aided by soaking the hair with a solution of half water and half vinegar. A fine tooth comb should then be used to go through each section of the hair. (Entirely metal combs tend to work the best.)
- All clothing and bedding should be laundered in hot water or dry-cleaned.
- Articles such as combs and brushes should be thoroughly washed in hot water or discarded.
- Articles that cannot be laundered (hats, stuffed animals, etc.) can be sealed in a plastic bag for 1 week.
- Vacuum all surfaces (mattresses, pillows, upholstered furniture, car seats, rugs) thoroughly.
- We DO NOT advise the use of “lice killing” sprays. These can be toxic and exposure cannot be controlled. Lice cannot survive long off of the human head, they typically die within 48 hours.
How does the school treat lice?
If a student is discovered to have lice:
- The parent will be notified.
- The student should be treated for head lice before returning to school.
- In some instances, students in an entire classroom may be checked for lice, however, this is time consuming and an interruption in the instructional program. Parents are expected to assume the responsibility of checking their children’s hair on a regular basis.
- Routine vacuuming and cleaning thoroughly is sufficient at home and school. The use of insecticide spray in this situation is not normally done or advised because of the toxicity and possible allergic reaction of students and/or staff.