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Help! My Kid Has Head Lice!

April 18, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 170

I'm an elementary school principal, and head lice cases happen from time to time at my mid-sized school in rural North Carolina. The issue didn't get my full attention, however, until my own daughter, a kindergarten student who attends my school, came home with tell-tell symptoms of this menace. Read on to find out what the school nurse and information pamphlets won't tell you, and how to get rid of the pests for good.

1. Learn the difference between live lice and lice nits.

You may think that lice is lice, but no so. Actually, nits are the eggs that live lice lay in the hair. Within days, these nits hatch into tiny lice critters that hop around laying more nits. Be on the lookout for nits. They look like tiny grains of salt. They can often be confused with dandruff. The difference is that dandruff will easily fall out of the hair when blown or brushed away. Nits cannot be blown or brushed away because they are latched onto the hair as a preservation mechanism. While live lice can be treated, the nits themselves are going to have to be physically removed from the hair, one by one. In girls with long, thick hair, the process of removing the nits can take several hours. Once only a few nits are left, single strands of hair with attached nits can be clipped out with finger nail clippers.

Some schools have "live lice" policies. Once a child begins scratching his or her hair, the teachers or the school nurse will check the child's hair. Nits and live lice love the area near the neck line. A child with live lice will not be allowed to remain at school, but a child with nits is able to stay. If your child's school has this policy, education is even more critical as live lice can hatch from nits at any time.

2. Head lice is more common in cooler weather.

A head lice epidemic is likely to spread through an elementary school classroom quickly in cooler weather when students wear hats and scarves. Coats and layered shirts can be the culprit as well. The reason for this is that students sometimes share these items. Your child's teacher can offset the spread by making sure that these items never touch each other, and that coats are not piled up together where live lice can jump from one garment to another.

3. Some children are repeat offenders.

Quick, diligent treatment is required to fight off and prevent head lice. Without it, a simple case of head lice can quickly spread to siblings, and quite possibly infest an entire household. The reasons that some families are unable to squash the epidemic before it gets out of control are varied. Most of the time the parents lack awareness in how to properly treat head lice. The more knits are laid, the more lice hatch, and the cycle becomes perpetual. The cost of treatment and the time involved in removing the nits can cause the problem to persist in certain children.

4. Experts don't agree about pesticide treatments.

If your child gets a case of head lice, it's likely you'll be making your way to the local pharmacy for a remedy. If you ask ten different experts on how to treat head lice, you're likely to get at least ten different answers. My local health department, for example, used to provide chemical-based treatment boxes for anyone who asked for it. Now, they provide instructions for how to treat head lice with household ingredients you likely already have, such as vegetable oil.

One popular pesticide treatment is RID. This liquid is clear and smells a bit like dish washing liquid. You apply it to dry hair and let it sit for about ten minutes. Then you rinse, pick out the knits, and wash with regular shampoo. According to the package, RID will kill live lice and nits, but it is still crucial that the nits be picked out of the hair because it probably won't kill all of the nits.

A non-pesticide treatment my school nurse always recommends to parents is called Lice-Rx. It is used just like the RID, but can be used each day.

What treatment did I use for my daughter (and for myself just case)? On the first day I used RID. I then used the Lice-Rx for a few days until most of the knits were gone. After a week, I applied RID again. I also used a special lice comb to help pick the knits out and then used the RID upholstery spray on the furniture. On that first day, I also washed all of our blankets, pillows, and jackets. Don't cut your child's hair; blow dry it!

5. Blow drying clean hair after you have applied and rinsed out treatment and picked out knits can speed up the process tremendously. Spend at least five minutes blow drying hair on the hottest setting your child can stand. This is how much time it takes to kill live lice.

In summary, head lice is quite common and actually not too hard to get rid of. Don't panic if your child begins scratching his or her head. Check for those grainy looking knits, get the treatment, and reassure your child that you have a plan. No need to overreact!

Jane Thursday is a freelance writer, a mother of two young children, and an elementary school principal. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership, a master's degree in school administration, and 6-12 English Language Arts teaching licensure. She has studied public education in the United States, South Africa, the Philippines, and England.

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