The beginning of the school year is peak season for head lice.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infestation with head lice is most common among preschool children attending child care, elementary school children, and the household members of infested children. An estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age.
As the first day of school draws near, the Plainville Southington Health District strongly encourages parents to conduct frequent hair checks on their children, in an effort to prevent head lice.
Head lice are tiny, wingless, parasitic insects that live and feed on blood from your scalp. They do not fly or jump. They are spread by head to head contact and by sharing personal items with a contaminated individual, such as hats, brushes/combs, or headphones. Lice can live for about two days without a meal and 30 days if it has a human blood supply. A female louse lays three to five eggs per day. It takes seven to 10 days for the egg to hatch into a nymph and another seven to 10 days to fully mature and able to continue the life cycle and lay its own eggs.
The presence of lice is usually confirmed by seeing the insect moving on the head. Intense itching on your scalp, neck and shoulders can occur causing discomfort. Head lice are a nuisance but not known to be vectors or infective agents of disease. Therefore, they are not considered a public health threat.
PSHD recommends the following should a family member be diagnosed with lice:
- Wash items (bedding, stuffed animals, and clothing) in hot soapy water – 130 degrees Fahrenheit – and dry them at high heat for at least 30 minutes. Clothing and items that are not washable can be dry cleaned.
- Seal bedding, clothing and unwashable items in plastic bags and store for 2 weeks. This will kill live lice, and newly hatched lice will die because they have no nutrition.
- Soak brushes and combs in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) for five to ten minutes.
- Vacuum all floors and furniture daily, particularly where the infested person sat or lay.
“The best approach to head lice prevention is to take thorough steps to get rid of the lice and their eggs as quickly as possible,” said Shane Lockwood, PSHD director of health, in a press release. “The sooner the nits/louse eggs and head lice are detected the easier and quicker it is to control them.”
Head checks need to be done at home several times a week, if not daily. Careful inspections of your child’s hair is the best control measure you can take to prevent their spread or re-infestation at your home or in school. Be sure to check your child’s scalp to look for lice eggs or nits. Part the hair in various places and check the scalp behind the ears and nape of the neck. The eggs are tiny, white or yellowish tear drop-shaped sacs attached to the hair near the scalp. If you determine that your child does have lice, check the other family members in the house. Be sure to treat all household members to effectively rid your family of lice.
Over the counter shampoos and treatments are very effective in ridding the hair of lice. Directions must be followed exactly, especially for the timing of any retreatments. Some lice may be resistant to the treatments. Contact your health care provider if the methods you are using are unsuccessful to eliminate lice and nits.