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A Lice Outbreak the First Week of School: Another Reason to Curse the End of Summer

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Happy first day of school, class! I am Mrs. Happy-To-Be-Here, and I will be your 1st grade teacher.

This is my first teaching job, so I am thrilled to have you all as my best students ever. Before we go sit on the happy rug in criss-cross applesauce to sing our school's motto, I have a few announcements:

First from our Principal, he says, "Go Chipmunks! We're going to have a nut-free year!" A little jokey. How cute!

Next our school nurse, Nurse Mitsy, has also sent me a little note. (Reading aloud.) "Please tell your class discreetly there is an outbreak of head lice in the first grade. Try not to scare..."

"Holy Schmidt on a Cracker!" (Running to the back of the room, edging tightly to the wall.)

"Nobody move or touch anything! I'm going to find a fly swatter and some hand sanitizer! Do not move!"

Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, "Head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene, and are not responsible for the spread of any disease," the public still dreads talking about it. "No healthy child should be excluded from or miss school because of head lice," says the AAP, "and no-nit policies for return to school should be abandoned. Your child can return to childcare or school after one treatment with anti-lice shampoo," is the policy.

Treatment

As always, check with your medical provider first for their advice. Over-the-counter treatments are effective, but it's mandatory you follow directions explicitly. Also, do NOT over treat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show if some treatments are overused, resistance to some of the medications can occur.

Leslie, an Overland Park, KS mom, said she had lice in her home a few years ago. She was brushing her daughter's hair and saw a louse "moving really fast. I put it on a piece of tape and took it to a practitioner who agreed to start treatment."

Then she used one of the common lice elimination systems containing shampoo, comb-out gel and the home control spray, for furniture and car surfaces. Luckily she said, "it was only a mild case and no one else got it."

If you see the critters:

  • Wash all bed linens and clothing that were recently worn by anyone in your home who's infested in very hot (130° F [54.4° C]), then put them in the hot cycle of the dryer for at least 20 minutes.
  • Have bed linens, clothing, and stuffed animals and plush toys that can't be washed put in airtight bags for a minimum of three days.
  • Dry-clean anything that can't be washed (like stuffed animals). Or put them in airtight bags for at least three weeks.
  • Vacuum carpets and any upholstered furniture (in your home or car), then throw away the vacuum cleaner bag.
  • Soak hair-care items like combs, barrettes, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in rubbing alcohol or medicated shampoo for one hour. You also can clean them in hot water for 10 minutes or just throw them away.

-- (Source: Nemour Foundation 2014)

Lice Facts

  • The nits (eggs) are oval, yellowish-white and hatch into lice in about 12 days.
  • Nits are sticky and difficult to remove from the hair shaft.
  • Off the scalp, nits cannot survive over one day.
  • A louse is the size of a sesame seed and is pale to grey.
  • Adult lice survive three weeks on the scalp and can produce 10 eggs per day.
  • Live lice can transmit to another child. Transmission is from direct head-to-head contact. Lice cannot jump or fly to another person's hair.
  • If not treated, the entire process will repeat.

(Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, September 2014)

So are you itchy yet?

Don't forget that kids are sensitive to any discussions of their infestation. Adults not blaming others and keeping names out of their discussion -- especially around children who may not be able to censor themselves -- will help decrease the mental anguish which can go along with a lice infestation.

Stacey Hatton is a kids RN, mom of 2 feisty munchkins and blogs at Nurse MommyLaughs.