Office of the School Nurse
South Portland School Department
South Portland, Maine 04106
The presence of lice continues to be a sporadically occurring problem in our schools. Parents deserve part of the credit for the overall low numbers. Thank you all for your efforts! In the spirit of continued success, it may be helpful to review the best steps for preventing and managing lice.
Because schools are often not aware that lice have been found, it is not effective to rely on notes from school to trigger head checks and this practice was discontinued long ago. Instead, we recommend that parents check their children’s hair on a weekly basis. If you check regularly, you will rarely find live lice. More often the eggs, called “nits”, will be found. Nits are small, silvery egg cases firmly attached close to the scalp on individual hairs. Nits will not fall off the hair like dandruff. The more you look at your child’s hair, the more you will familiarize yourself with hair that does not have nits on them. Once you see them you will begin to treat them early-this is very important to breaking the life cycle of lice and eliminating them.
Treatment for lice includes a shampoo (a pesticide) which kills the live lice as well as the nits that are more than 3 days old. The shampoo does not affect the nits that are less than 3 days old because they have not developed a central nervous system yet. This is how the shampoo works. Such shampoos are available over the counter as well as by prescription. There are also a number of very effective and inexpensive alternative approaches that do not involve application of harsh chemicals to the scalp. There is some evidence that lice can become resistant to these chemicals. Your school nurse can provide you with information on alternative treatments. After any treatment, ALL of the nits must be removed, or continued infestation is likely. A metal nit comb and hand removal is the best choice for this process, which takes up to six weeks to be effective. Bottom line: Getting rid of lice is a MECHANICAL process-not a chemical process. With daily checking and nit removal for at least 6 weeks, lice should be eliminated. It is important to then resume weekly checks for early detection of any future case.
Since head lice can survive off the scalp for several hours, it is important to give close attention to your immediate environment. Here are some recommendations.
Vacuum all carpets, rugs, upholstered furniture and mattresses thoroughly.
Wash all recently worn clothing and recently used towels, sheets and linens in hot soapy water and dry in a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes. Non-washable bedding or clothing should be bagged for 1 week. When removing these items, open them and shake them outside.
Your child’s furry and fuzzy toys may also be vacuumed, washed or bagged.
Soak all combs and hairbrushes in hot water (130 degrees) for 10 minutes.
Don’t forget your car. A good vacuuming of the seats and headrests is recommended, especially if you car pool.
Prevention is the best course of action. Help us by reminding your child not to share hats, combs, brushes, scarves. Long hair which is braided or tied back is not as likely to touch another child’s hair. Remember – Lice do not jump or fly, so direct contact is what needs to be managed.
School nurses are available to help parents and teachers who would like a child’s head checked. Current guidelines discourage mass screenings as they are not considered effective and very disruptive to learning. School nurses also have a wealth of information on addressing lice and are happy to meet with parents who would like information to help them address this concern. The goal of treatment is to eliminate the lice with MINIMAL disruption to school attendance and classroom activity.
Note: The approach practiced by the SPSD is consistent with recommendations by the National Association of School Nurses, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Harvard School of Public Health.
South Portland K-5 Nursing Staff