Press-Republican

December 1, 2012

Head lice: common but combatable

By BAILEY HEINZERLING
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Don’t share combs or hats, and watch out for those hugs, school nurses advise to help children avoid head lice. 

“It’s one of those things that happen every year,” said AuSable Forks Elementary School Principal Ginene Mason.

With so many students in such close proximity of each other, Mason said, head lice hits all schools. It can happen to anyone at anytime.

ROUTINE CHECKS

After nine years at AuSable Forks Elementary, school nurse Sylvia Smith is no stranger to this pest.

“Parents need to be aware it does go around and is very difficult to get rid of,” she said.

On head-check day, Smith and a guest nurse meticulously comb through 226 heads — hunting for nits. 

Any sign of a nit or louse and Smith phones a parent or guardian right away to have the child picked up for treatment.

If the child returns the next day and is cleared while the guardian waits in the nurse’s office, Smith sends them back to class and gives the OK to use school transportation.

NO LINK TO CLEANLINESS

Both Mason and Smith said lice are very common in the North Country, and it’s not an indication of whether a household is clean or not, which is a frequent misconception.

“It’s like any kind of communicable disease and illness,” Mason said, “it just happens.”

Nits will attach to the hair shaft up close to the scalp and stick, Smith said, and “just washing will not get them out.

“They don’t jump around,” and “it only takes one (nit) to hatch” and spread quickly.

TREATMENT

It’s not necessary to see a physician, but Smith said the hair must be treated right away. She’s heard of parents using over-the-counter lice shampoos or home remedies, like soaking the head overnight in olive oil and a shower cap to smother lingering nits.

Nits and lice must be removed with a special comb because regular combs will not do the job.

“Lice-killing products are pesticides and should be used cautiously,” especially with animals in the home, Smith added. Humans are always vulnerable to side effects, like skin irritation or allergic reactions, as with any medication.

HELMETS, HAIR TIES

“A lot of paranoia comes with head lice,” said Kristine Gay, Keene Central School registered nurse. 

She checks about 80 heads in students grade K-6 in the school, which has about 167 students total, including grades K-12.

Head lice are usually an issue among younger children, in Gay’s experience, but overlooked carriers could affect older kids, as well.

“A lot of people don’t think about sports helmets and those silly little things like hair ties,” Gay said, as means of spreading lice.

She usually checks students in grade K-6 only, but she because lice spread like wildfire and all of the grades are in one building, she checks siblings in grades 7-12 if a younger one tests positive.

“It should always be on a mom’s mind. There isn’t a lice season.”

Going on a sleepover? It’s best for kids to bring their own pillows in case someone is undiagnosed, she advised.

Stuffed animals are a huge carrier, which is difficult because younger kids love to share, but they need to be cautious with their toys.

“We have a very strict ‘no-nit’ policy,” Gay said.

As with AuSable Forks Elementary, a student with lice at KCS must be sent home right away upon diagnosis for treatment, returning to school the next day with a parent or guardian to be cleared by the nurse.

At KCS, the child must also be driven back for classes or events for the next 14 days after they’re cleared, weekends inclusive, to help prevent spreading on buses in a district that encompasses all grade levels in one building.

“Halfway through, you get a parent that thinks the issue is over, and they (the children) come back,” Gay said.

‘MESS UP DAY’

Chateaugay Central School calls their head checks “mess up your hair day” to make it more fun for the kids, said school nurse Lorraine Kourofsky.

“They laugh and go back to class,” she said.

Some of the pre-K and kindergarten students don’t quite understand it, so Kourofsky goes into the classrooms to screen them. She calls the older students in grades 1 to 6 down by teacher, checking four to six children at a time.

The process takes about a week to complete with the 547 students at CCS, but she generally only screens preschoolers and grades K-6. If a younger sibling tests positive, she also checks other siblings.

Nits usually like tight, curly hair, as opposed to boys with short haircuts, Kourofsky said.

“Parents have to diligent, and they have to check their kids often.”

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EXPERT TIPS

 Here are some recommendations from area nurses: