Know the facts about head lice

// Posted By Janie Rohlfing

Common occurrence among children

Head lice, which are small parasitic insects, are a common occurrence among children with approximately one in 100 U.S. elementary-age children getting head lice during any given year. The peak infestation time for head lice are generally during summer and other back-to-school periods, such as early January.

The Lee’s Summit R-7 School District Health Services Department is providing the information in this article to help inform families about this issue. Head lice infestation within the R-7 School District and at individual schools is not above normal this school year.

Generally found close to the scalp, usually around the ears and back of the neck, the adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed and can be the color of a child’s hair. Nits, or eggs, are smaller and silver in color. It is noteworthy that head lice do NOT spread disease and are NOT related to hygiene or cleanliness.

How do children get head lice?

Children acquire head lice mainly by direct head-to-head contact with an infected person. If someone in your child’s class at school develops head lice, there is no reason to automatically assume that your child will “catch head lice.

How can head lice be prevented?

It is virtually impossible to prevent all head lice infestations. Parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of head lice and are encouraged to check their children’s heads for lice periodically, before and after sleep-overs and if the child is symptomatic. If a person is identified with head lice, all household members should be checked for head lice.

What are symptoms of head lice?

Most cases of head lice in children begin without any symptoms. The most common symptom is itching, which is caused by an allergic reaction to the louse saliva. However, itching may not occur until after four to five weeks of infestation.

How are head lice diagnosed?

Diagnosis of head lice is confirmed through the identification of a live louse on the head. If your child is scratching his or her head and you see bugs or nits on the scalp, he or she should be examined by a medical professional.

What is the treatment for head lice?

Treatment should occur only when active (crawling) lice or viable eggs (nits that are ¼ inch or closer to the scalp) are observed. Effective treatments include over-the-counter products and prescription medication. Alternative therapies, such as natural and herbal remedies, also exist but they have not been proven effective and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition, nit picking (hair combing) with a fine-tooth comb is often used to remove the nits from the hair. This combing takes time and patience. While nit picking may remove the eggs or empty shells, it is not considered an effective treatment for head lice if used in isolation.

Please note that many approved products are safe and effective but, like all medical treatments, must be used as directed. Studies have also shown that head lice are developing resistance to pesticides used in over-the-counter products in much the same way that some bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics.

For more information

For more information about head lice at your child’s school, please contact your school nurse. You may also visit the R-7 Board of Education policy database and search for JHC-AP2: “Student Health Services and Requirements (Head Lice).”

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