Preschoolers and elementary students have a new culprit to deal with these days: head lice. Head lice are parasitic, wingless insects that live in the heads or hair of humans and survive by feeding on blood. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), having head lice is very common; as many as 6-12 million people worldwide get head lice each year, and children between the ages of 3 and 10 and their families are infested most often.
Head lice affect people from all income and social levels. Anyone can get head lice, no matter how often you wash your hair or how often you bathe.
Children get head lice several different ways, but usually through contact with an infested person. Most common contacts are during play time at school and at home; by wearing infested clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms and hair accessories; by using infested combs brushes or towels; or by lying on a bed, couch, pillow, carpet or stuffed animal, head rest or car seat that has recently been in contact with an infested person.
Preventative measures can be taken to decrease your child’s risk of getting lice, and these measures should be communicated with your children before they enroll in school.
The National Pediculosis Association recommends the following:
Watch for signs of head lice, such as frequent head scratching.
Check all family members for lice and nits (lice eggs) at least once a week. Only those infested should be treated. Lice are reddish-brown wingless insects; nits are grayish white, always oval-shaped and are attached at an angle to the side of the hair shaft. Be sure not to confuse nits with hair debris, such as dandruff.
Consult your pharmacist or physician before applying or using lice treatment pesticides when the person involved is pregnant, nursing, has allergies, asthma, epilepsy, has preexisting medical conditions, or has lice or nits in the eyebrows or eyelashes. Never use pesticide on or near the eyes. All lice- killing products are pesticides. If you choose to purchase an over-the-counter treatment, follow the directions carefully and use with caution.
Wash bedding and recently worn clothing in hot water and dry in a hot dryer. Combs and brushes may be soaked in hot water (not boiling) for 10 minutes.
Notify your child’s school, camp, child-care provider and neighborhood parents of lice infestation so that others can be screened and protected from a lice outbreak.