Pediculosis, or head lice, is a condition that affects millions of children each year. Head lice are not a health hazard, or a sign of uncleanliness of the home or school, and are not responsible for the spread of any disease. At Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, we follow recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses for our school policy.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY CHILD HAS LICE?
The most common symptom is itching or tickling sensation, especially around the base of the neck and behind the ears. The best way to check for lice is to examine the child’s head in a brightly lit room. Part the hair and look at your child’s scalp. The lice eggs (called nits) are tiny brown or white specks that are attached firmly to the hair shaft, close to the scalp. If lice are found, they are usually at the back of the neck or behind the ears. Live lice are more difficult to find, as they move quickly away from the light. Comb through small sections of the hair with a fine-tooth comb. After each comb through, examine the comb and scalp carefully. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between nits, dandruff or other hair debris. Nits are more difficult to remove as they are attached firmly to the hair shaft. Because infested people usually have few lice, they can very easily be missed.
There are three steps in the treatment of lice recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. If your child still has head lice after following these steps, please contact your child’s healthcare provider. If a person is identified with head lice, all household members should be checked for head lice, and those with live lice or nits within 1cm of the scalp should be treated. There are numerous local companies that specialize in the treatment of head lice, either in the home or at their salon.
Step 1: Kill the lice
There are a variety of treatments available both over-the-counter and by prescription. These products are insecticides so it is important to follow the directions carefully. Some of these treatments will kill the live lice but may not kill all the eggs. A second treatment may be necessary in 7 – 10 days.
Step 2: Comb out the nits
After treatment, remove the nits with a fine–toothed comb. Combing out the nits takes a great deal of time and patience. Continue to check your child’s hair daily for two weeks after treatment and remove any nits you find.
Step 3: Prevent lice from spreading
Wash your child’s clothes, towels, hats, and bed linens in hot water and dry on high heat. Soak combs and brushes in boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes. Vacuum furniture, carpeting, car seats and other fabric your child has been in contact with for the past 24 – 48 hours before treatment. Items that cannot be washed, such as stuffed animals or toys can be placed in a plastic bag for two weeks.
PREVENTING HEAD LICE
Lice cannot hop or fly; they crawl. Transmission in most cases occurs by direct head-to-head contact, and young children come into head-to-head contact with each other frequently. It is impossible to totally prevent head lice infestations. It is prudent for children to be taught not to share personal items such as brushes, combs, hats, scarves, bandanas, ribbons, barrettes, hair ties, towels, helmets or other personal care items with anyone. Live lice cannot live more than 24 – 48 hours off the head, so extraordinary cleaning measures are usually not necessary. It is better to spend the time to properly treat the child with the lice.
ONCE A WEEK, TAKE A PEEK
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents routinely check their children’s heads, regardless of whether there are symptoms. Parents should check their children’s heads for lice every 1-2 weeks and before and after sleepovers.
For additional information, please consult your pediatrician and the American Academy of Dermatologists website.