Welcome back to school. As your child’s nurse I would like to make you aware of a situation that often occurs as the school year begins and can occur throughout the school year. Pediculosis or head lice, is a condition that each year affects approximately 6 to 12 million children between the ages of 3 and 12 years of age, and about 1 in every 100 elementary school children. Head lice are parasites that are generally found on the scalp, around the ears, and at the back of the neck. The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, and may be the color of your child’s hair. Eggs, or nits, are small and silver in color and adhere to the hair shaft.
Lice do not hop, jump, or fly. The only way to get them is from person to person, by direct contact with infested hair (most common) or by sharing personal items such as combs, brushes or caps (less common). The most common symptom of head lice is itching and head scratching, particularly at night. Red bite marks or sores may also be notice on the scalp. If you suspect that your child has head lice, please contact your health care provider or school nurse. Safe and effective products to treat head lice are available both over the counter and by doctor’s prescription. It is important to follow the directions carefully. In addition, use a fine-tooth comb or special metal nit comb to remove the eggs (nits) from the hair. You need to continue to check your child’s scalp nightly to see if there are any new head lice or nits. Parents should also wash all recently worn clothing, hats, used bedding and towels in hot water or dry-clean. Toys, such as stuffed animals, can be put into a tightly closed plastic bag for 14 days or placed in a hot dryer for 30 minutes to kill the lice.
The school nurse’s role is to educate parents, teachers and children regarding the detection and treatment of head lice. When a case of head lice is found, the school nurse will notify that student’s parent/guardian and request prompt, proper treatment of the child’s head lice. If there are three or more cases of head lice reported in any one grade level, a notice will be sent home to families alerting them to check their child.
Periodic head checks by parents, resulting in early detection, treatment and removal of live lice and nits, is the most reliable method for controlling lice. Head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene and are not responsible for the spread of any disease. There is no scientific evidence that warrants the exclusion of children with head lice. Therefore, no child will be excluded from school if they have a case of head lice.
Upon discovery of lice or nits, the student’s parents will be contacted and next steps will be discussed. The parent should be prepared to have a conversation regarding the treatment used, the number and viability of any remaining nits, and the ability to diagnose a re-infestation. While undergoing treatment for lice, the student must check-in with the nurse upon entering school. The nurse will monitor the treatment of an affected child to ensure that appropriate and timely treatment has occurred.
My goal as school nurse is to provide you with the information you need to safeguard your child’s health and ensure that his or her education is not disrupted. Feel free to contact me with any questions. For more information on head lice please go to: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/id/epidemiology/factsheets.html