Back 2 School: What about lice?

Back 2 School: What about lice? »Play Video
This is a photograph of a female head louse. (Photo from the National Institutes of Health.)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Mention lice, and somehow, you can't help but feel an itch.

Unfortunately lice is a reality many kids will face as they return to school. And in most area schools they will have to miss school days until they get rid of it.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics now says the 12 million kids affected by lice each year shouldn't miss school while they are being treated. A nurse with the Beaverton School District agrees.

"They don't have wings so they don't fly and they don't have legs like flees so they can't jump," said nurse Marsha Hamberger. "They crawl. It's believed most lice are transferred child to child through sleepovers" – rather than class or playground contact.

Beaverton schools only have a no "live lice" policy. The district does not keep kids who are carrying lice eggs alone from coming to school. It also won't always notify parents about cases in the classroom unless quite a few kids have it.

And for kids like 10-year-old Anna, who has lice, the itching and scratching on her head has made her mom desperate to help her.

"We comb out their hair and we think we get it all," her mother Katie said. "[Then] it reinfests within a week 'cause we don't get it all."

Her mother Katie had been using such over-the-counter products as Rid. Now she is calling in a professional.

"You gotta get 'em all," says Sherry Karrigan, owner of the NitPicky Lice Removal Service.

Karrigan points out activity at the bottom of a bowl into which she is combing out Anna's hair.

"There's some lice, some eggs," Karrigan said. With the right tools and products, she said Anna "is gonna feel great when we're done."

Adult lice are about the size of sesame seeds, and are really hard to spot. The nits, or eggs, stick to the root of the hair.

We have checked with some of the larger school districts in our area: Portland, Beaverton, Salem-Keizer and Vancouver. All have the same policy on lice: no active lice in the classroom. However, children with only eggs can return to class.

North Clackamas is more stringent. It has a "no live lice or nits" in the classroom rule.

Karrigan brings each bug out with a special comb one by one, so not even one can remain stuck on the hair.

Karrigan is not convinced that not immediately notifying parents and treating children is fair to other kids. She feels that children don't really maintain a "personal space bubble" like adults do.

"They can pass it back and forth by sharing things, [such as] backpacks that are too close together on a rack at school," said the Nit Picky owner. "It can transfer over and all you need is one impregnated female to get in your hair and she'll start laying eggs and then the process starts."

So, just to be safe, before school starts check your own child's head for lice activity. That way you won't give the little animals a chance to spread.

"See, right here we have some eggs," Karrigan points out in one child's hair.

Karrigan suggest using hair products with peppermint or tea-tree oil in them. She also says gel helps a little as prevention, since lice can't grip as well to "slick" hair.

To help prevent the spread of lice, remember these basic tips to pass on to your kids for the school day:

  • Encourage them not to share hats, brushes, hair accessories or jackets.
  • Keep their hair pulled back in a pony tail or braids.
  • Conduct random head checks.
     

Related link: