School nurses want to prevent head lice from being a distraction to the classroom & learning, so we encourage families to learn about lice & be proactive in trying to prevent it. The District 196 website (www.district196.org/headlice) is a good resource for more information about head lice & parents are strongly encouraged to read through that information now, at the start of the school year.
It is very important for parents to check children regularly for head lice by inspecting their hair & scalp often. This will help prevent major infestations which can be challenging to treat.
Although head lice really are not a health concern, as they do not transmit disease, they are one of the most common communicable conditions & can be one of the most frustrating issues parents have to deal with during their children’s school years. An estimated 6-12 million infestations occur each year among U.S. children 3 to 11 years of age.
Head lice are small insects about the size of a sesame seed that live close to & feed on the human scalp. The main symptom of head lice is an itchy scalp.
Lice lay tiny (about the size of a granule of sugar), tear-shaped eggs, called “nits” that attach firmly to the hair shaft within ½ inch of the scalp. Nits are often confused with dandruff or other hair product debris, so it is important to be careful when inspecting the head. A simple trick is to flick your finger at the suspected nit. If the debris flicks out easily, it is NOT a nit, as the nits “stick” the hair shaft. Nits typically need to be removed via a specially designed lice comb or fingernails to pull off of the hair shaft.
When checking for head lice it is typically the nits on the hair shaft near the scalp that are found, as there are usually more nits than live lice & the lice move & hide in the hair very quickly.
Head lice are mainly spread through direct head-to-head contact, especially at slumber parties & during prolonged direct head-to-head contact such as sitting close together during quiet reading times or on the couch watching TV/movies. Lice move by crawling; they cannot jump or fly.
It is unlikely to find head lice on objects like helmets or hats because they have feet that are specifically designed to grasp on human hair shafts & lice cannot live for more than a few hours without feeding on the human scalp.
It is uncommon for head lice to spread via hats/coats hanging in lockers, or by contact with hats, scarves, combs, brushes or towels. Again, the main mode of transmission is via direct head-to-head contact.
Personal hygiene & household or school cleanliness are NOT factors for infestation. In fact, head lice often infest people with good hygiene & grooming habits.
Head lice do NOT transmit disease & they are NOT considered a health hazard.
There are many treatment options available, however not all are scientifically proven to be effective or FDA approved, so it is important to talk to your health care provider or pharmacist regarding treatment options. It is also very important to follow the treatment instructions very carefully.
There is much to learn about head lice & I appreciate families’ efforts to increase their understanding of head lice & to help support our efforts to keep the focus on optimal learning for students.
I wish all of our wonderful Woodland students & families a happy & healthy school year full of learning & growth!
Angie Mahowald, BSN, RN, NCSN
Woodland Licensed School Nurse
References: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of School Nurses (NASN)
Woodland News >