What are the signs, symptoms of head lice infestation?
- Tickling feeling of something moving in the hair.
- Itching, caused by an allergic reaction to the bites of the head louse.
- Irritability and difficulty sleeping; head lice are most active in the dark.
- Sores on the head caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected with bacteria found on the person's skin.
- Avoid head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact during play and other activities at home, school and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, camp). Lice are spread most commonly by direct head-to-head (hair-to-hair) contact and much less frequently by sharing clothing or belongings onto which lice or nits may have crawled or fallen.
- Do not share clothing such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, hair ribbons or barrettes.
- Do not share infested combs, brushes or towels.
- Do not lie on beds, couches, pillows, rugs, carpets or stuffed animals that have recently been in contact with an infested person.
Source: CDC Division of Parasitic Diseases
Now that the school year is back in full swing, those unpleasant childhood infections are ready to appear once again.
The fall and winter season typically signals the time parents should start keeping an eye on their children for signs of head lice, Dave Palmer, spokesperson for District 2 Public Health said. School children are an easy mark for transferring lice especially as the weather cools down.
"If jackets or head gear are held in the same closet together, it can be transferred," Palmer said.
Head lice are tiny brown bugs that live on a human scalp. Adult head lice can make their nests in the hair of the scalp or nape of the neck and feed on human blood. Another sign of infestation is finding nits, or lice eggs, which are small and oval-shaped.
In Gainesville, schools have a procedure to prevent the pest from spreading, Paula Sawyer, a nurse at Gainesville High School said. If a classroom has multiple cases, the entire class could be checked for head lice, she said. School officials also will send letters home to parents if the problem is widespread.
"We try to teach students not to share caps and to not use the same brushes and combs. We also tell them not to share pillows if they have rest time," she said.
Some U.S. schools have dropped policies that force kids to stay home until they are free of lice and nits, after a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Gainesville does no have a "no-nit" policy. Students can return to school when they show signs of treatment, Sawyer said.
"Treatment can take several days once they follow instructions. We recheck the scalp to see if they have less or no nits, and see if it has been treated," she said.
According to LPN Jenny Reed of District 2 Public Health, the treatment for head lice is usually over-the-counter remedies, such as shampoos. She said to be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions carefully, and to try having the child stand in direct sunlight to brush out the nits.
There are also a few home remedies, such as taking one-part vinegar and one-part water and spreading it on the child's head. The mixture will loosen the glue-type substance the nits use to attach to the hair follicle, to make removal easier, Reed said.
Reed said parents shouldn't feel embarrassed by a diagnosis. It's a common misconception that acquiring head lice is a sign of poor hygiene.
"Lice are actually more likely to get on a clean head than a dirty head because of the oils in your hair; they need to be able to lay their eggs, which they glue to the hair," Reed said.
The most common way to control head lice is for parents to notify the school if their child is infected, Sawyer said. She also urges parents to seek professional advice.
"People may not be educated about it if they're experiencing it for the first time. Talking to school nurse can be helpful in finding out what steps to take," she said.