Triad, NC Parents: Be Prepared for Head Lice!
Ask any High Point, Greensboro, or Winston-Salem school nurse what he or she dreads the most when it comes to back-to-school health issues, and the answer will be pretty much unanimous: head lice. The CDC estimates that between six million and twelve million lice infestations occur in children between the ages of three and eleven each year in the United States. In fact, it’s so prevalent that many schools, including several in the Triad area, have lice policies that outline when students must leave school and when they can return.
Head lice are not considered a public health hazard, although they are certainly an annoyance and can be very uncomfortable. Some people may suffer from a secondary skin infection due to excessive scratching. Head lice live close to the scalp, and feed on human blood several times a day. They cling very tightly to human hair (even holding on underwater), and are mostly spread through head-to-head contact. It’s uncommon for lice to spread by sharing helmets, hats, and barrettes, as they cannot survive long when detached from a human host.
Head lice and nits (lice eggs) are very hard to see without a lot of light and a good magnifying glass. Many schools conduct lice checks, and you can always have your child checked for lice at a FastMed Urgent Care. If your child does have lice, everyone else in the household should get checked as well. FastMed can also give you tips to help you get rid of your lice infestation, and offer suggestions for cleaning your home to ensure that it doesn’t recur.
You should be familiar with the lice policy at your child’s school, as it can vary widely. For example, in Davidson County, all lice and nits must be removed before the child can return to school, and he or she cannot miss more than two days due to the infestation. In Guilford County, children can return after treatment with a special shampoo or rinse, and once 75% of nits have been removed. And in Forsyth and Winston-Salem school districts, a student can remain in school if he or she has nits or fewer than ten live lice.
Many schools are relaxing restrictions on children who have lice. While an infestation is an itchy nuisance, it isn’t technically dangerous or infectious. Some doctors argue that by the time the lice infestation is discovered, classmates will probably already have been exposed. Expert opinions vary on these relaxed policies; the National Pediculosis Association is against allowing children with nits back into schools, as these nits will eventually hatch into lice. The American Academy of Pediatrics, on the other hand, is encouraging the discontinuation of ‘no-nit’ policies, as nits cement themselves to hair shafts and are tough to remove. And the National Association of School Nurses believes that children with live head lice should continue to go to class (but avoid direct head contact with others).
If your child seems to be scratching his or her scalp or small red bumps appear on the head, neck, and shoulders, you may want to bring the child to FastMed to be checked for lice. You should also get checked if a family member has lice, or if the school reports that they have seen several instances lately. At-home treatments are sometimes effective, but if you continue to find lice after treatment, FastMed can give you a prescription to kill both lice and nits. If you’re concerned, come see us at any one of our six convenient locations in the Triad.