Head lice are two of the most dreaded words in the English language to any elementary school parent. However, it is inevitable that some time during your child's schooling, a notice warning about head lice will come home, causing panic.
Head lice are wingless insect parasites that feed on human blood by attaching themselves to the scalp. Their eggs are called nits. A female louse has a lifespan of four weeks, during which she lays between 50-150 nits, which averages to 3-4 eggs daily. For this reason, head lice are highly contagious and it is far easier to prevent their spread than to get rid of them once you have them.
Head Lice Infestations In Children
Head lice infestations are frequent in children; between 6 to 12 million are treated for head lice annually in the U.S. alone. Head lice are more common among girls than boys, possibly because girls tend to have longer hair. They are most prevalent among children ages 4-13 years old. Head lice outbreaks are more common in winter time, possibly because of the increased use of hats and scarves.
How Head Lice Problem is Spread?
Head lice are spread by direct contact of the head or hair with an infested individual. They can also be spread by sharing personal articles such as combs, brushes, hats, towels, or hair accessories, or by lying on a pillow, headrest or other piece of furniture where an infested person has laid their head. Head lice do not fly or jump; they literally crawl from one place to another, and cannot survive off of the scalp for more than 24 hours, so head to head contact is the most likely cause. Prevent the spread of head lice by teaching your children not to share personal articles and to avoid close physical contact with other children when you know a head lice outbreak has occurred.
Symptoms of Head Lice
Symptoms of head lice include an itchy scalp, the feeling that something is crawling on your scalp, and red or oozing sores on the scalp caused by scratching. The most common locations for these sores are behind the ears and at the back of the neck. Nits do not cause symptoms but they are visible, appearing as tiny white casings which attach themselves to the hair shaft near the scalp.
Treatments Options for Head Lice
Treatments for head lice combine topical pesticides which kill the living insects with nit-picking, literally picking nits out of the hair with a fine-toothed comb. If the hair is too fine it may be preferable to snip the hairs containing nits off with scissors. All members of the household where head lice have been found must be checked, and linens and personal items such as hats, scarves and stuffed animals should be laundered as well.
Most schools in the U.S. require that the student who has contracted lice stay home until every nit is gone. There are some professional services springing up that take care of the laborious process of removing nits for charges as high as $90 an hour. The individual should be re-examined weekly to make sure that all nits are gone.