It’s back to school for lice, too

School head lice: A child scratches his head

My oldest daughter turned 4 over the summer, and we’ve enrolled her in a pre-kindergarten program starting this month at a nearby elementary school.

We’ve done our visits, met the teacher and purchased the uniforms. Her vaccinations are up to date; she has a new backpack and a new lunch box. And, I armed myself with an arsenal of kid-friendly lunch recipes from Pinterest.

But there is one thing I had completely forgotten about until I was chatting recently with Banner pediatrician Ruben Espinoza, MD, in Mesa, Arizona.

“We are having a lice epidemic,” he said.

I have vague recollections of lice outbreaks at my elementary school. However, now that my daughter will be moving into a bigger school and class size, I needed to know more. I grabbed the pamphlet from Dr. Espinoza’s office and delved into Banner’s Health Library for details.

Lice in kids

Lice are tiny insects that can infest the skin anywhere on the body. Lice affects as many as 12 million children each year and is most common in kids ages 5 to 12.

Unsurprisingly, the peak times for lice follow school breaks – August through October, and again in January. Lice spreads through close contact and sharing of items such as hats, helmets, brushes, scarves, pillows and other items that touch the head. And, contrary to a common myth, they prefer clean hair.

Dr. Espinoza recommends parents discourage their children from sharing the items outlined above. He also recommends discouraging activities that result in head-to-head contact. He said it’s also a good idea for children with longer hair to wear it pulled back into a braid or ponytail while at school or other activities with a lot of children.

“Whether you’re camping, having a slumber party or hanging out at the pool, make sure kids – and adults, too, for that matter – are using their own towels, their own pillows, their own sleeping bags,” he said.

Signs your kid may have lice

Itching is the most common sign of head lice. You can often see lice or their eggs, called nits, with the naked eye, usually on the scalp, behind the ears and even on eyebrows and eyelashes.

The good news is, while lice are highly contagious, they are not known to spread disease and they are treatable.

Treatment includes eliminating lice from the infested person using an over-the-counter or prescription medication, as well as washing clothing and linens and disinfecting combs, brushes and, in my case, approximately 2.7 million bows, barrettes and hair clips.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes into much more detail on treatment.

Hopefully, this is information I will never have to use. But, teaching a 4-year-old not to share hair accessories and dress-up clothes seems like an exercise in futility.

Also read: Respiratory Synctial Virus: Facts About RSV

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