Itching for Back to School

Christopher Stephens Salon West Palm BeachBack to school time is right around the corner! Very soon children your will be hard at work once more in their class rooms.

Unfortunately, some children will be smuggling in some uninvited guests into the class room. That’s right, a large number of children will run the risk of picking up a memory that they’d most likely rather not have. Get ready for it … I’m talking about the dreaded, the shameful, the… dare I say it… HEAD LICE!

That’s right folks; like it or not, children are social creatures. Be that as it may, social interaction amongst children is the breeding ground for head lice. And since you can’t just lock them in their room until school ends here are a few facts that you might find useful this school year.

(By the way, head lice are most active starting September thru January.)

Start from “scratch”: (Get it?) 

Before school begins, check your child for lice and nits. If your child has lice, a close examination of his or her hair and scalp will reveal white or grayish crawling forms, about the size of a sesame seed with legs (lice), and yellowish-white eggs (nits) attached to the hair shafts close to the scalp. The eggs can sometimes be mistaken for dandruff or shampoo residue that will not wash off. However, unlike dandruff, which moves when touched, nits and lice will stick to hair. You may also see red bite or scratch marks on the back of the neck. 

If you find lice don’t panic:

Wash your and your child’s hands and nails thoroughly, getting under the nails, as some lice may be found there due to scratching. Treat infested family members at the same time. There are many over the counter treatment options that may be found at your local drug store. Your pharmacist can give you many recommendations; however, it is important to know that the current leading lice treatments contain toxic chemicals that can be potentially harmful. If your child has a lower immune system or any other health risks please consult with your doctor. One last note; if you do find head lice on your child don’t make a scene that may potentially embarrass the child. I’m sure you are carrying around an embarrassing memory or two that your parents gave you; well this could possibly be “one of those times”.

Prevent re-infestation:

To prevent the spread of head lice, you should ask your child to not share personal items such as combs, brushes and hair accessories, and to not try on hats that belong to other children. Also, all used bed linen, bath towels, wash cloths, etc. should be washed in hot water immediately. As far as carpet and furniture go, giving them a thorough vacuuming will suffice. There is no need to spray those toxic chemicals around your house that are sold along with a lice kit. They’re bad for the environment and they’re a waste of money.

Other myths and facts:

  • Experts used to suggest bagging items such as stuffed animals for a number of weeks to help bring infestations under control.  Since lice cannot survive without human blood, this is unnecessary.  Once again vacuuming is a sufficient safeguard for any questionable areas or items that may be in contact with those who are infested.  You can also put bed linens, stuffed animals and other items in a dryer for 30 minutes. Save your physical and emotional energies for screening and thorough lice and nit removal.

  • Head lice can survive on a human host for approximately 30 days.  They generally cannot survive longer than 24 hours off the host. A female louse lays 3-5 eggs a day.  The eggs hatch in 7-10 days and it takes another 7-10 day for the louse to mature and lay their own eggs.

  • Head lice cannot be "caught" from pets and cannot survive on pets.  They are human parasites and require human blood for survival.

  • Even though African Americans may be less susceptible to infestations, this should not be grounds for complacency; African Americans can, and do, get head lice.

  • Homes or schools don’t get head lice – people do.  Head lice are human parasites and require human blood to survive.  Vacuuming is the safest and best way to remove lice or fallen hairs with attached nits from upholstered furniture, rugs, stuffed animals or car seats – wherever someone with head lice may have rested their head.  Pesticidal sprays are unwarranted and may pose personal and environmental hazards.  Vacuum and save your time and energy for what benefits you the most – thorough nit removal.

  • Head lice can be spread whenever there is direct contact of the head or hair with an infested individual.  Lice can also be spread through the sharing of personal articles like hats, towels, brushes, helmets, hair ties, etc.  There is also a possibility of spreading head lice via a pillow, headrest or similar items. Head lice do not jump or fly and generally cannot survive longer than 24 hours off the host.

  • Head lice do not come from nasty people, poor people or immigrants. I’m sure that if you had them as a child you heard these myths; well it is simply not true. The head louse is a social parasite that bridges the divide between social, economic and cultural boundaries. As a matter of fact, head lice prefer and will typically flourish even more prolifically on the cleanest of scalps.

In closing, I would like to say that shaving a child’s head to aid in the removal of head lice is humiliating for children and also unnecessary. And, while cutting you daughters hair shorter would make it easier for lice removal, it is against state sanitation codes, nationwide, for a professional hair stylist or barber to treat or cut the hair of a child with head lice, they could lose their license. Not to mention it’s embarrassing and awkward for both parties to discuss these facts.    

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