It’s back to school time. And it’s also time for after school programs in community rooms at PHAs across the country. Twice this week, I’ve spoken with property managers who are concerned about head lice.
The adult head louse is a light colored insect (6 legs) and about the size of a sesame seed. Eggs are stuck to human hair close to the scalp. After the eggs hatch they are lighter in color and easier to see. The head louse’s entire life is spent close to the scalp in a person’s hair. In fact, adults can’t live more than two days off the host and eggs won’t hatch if they’re more than 2 cm from the scalp.
Fortunately, with this pest, the hype is worse than the bite. In short, head lice cannot fly, jump, or burrow into the skin. They don’t infest pets and they don’t spread any disease. But the thought of head lice is distressing.
To manage these pests in your community areas the best thing you can do is prevent head-to-head contact. Other prevention options you’ll hear are to limit the sharing of brushes, hats, helmets, etc. In fact, the risk of getting head lice from these items is minimal. Don’t deny a kid a helmet or have them sent home. The main source of spread is the head-to-head contact. If someone does have head lice, give the family the information in the sample newsletter article below or the fact sheet at http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/QT/headlicecard.html.
To use IPM for head lice:
Inspect: Use a nit comb on wet hair and look for head lice and eggs (nits). Viable eggs will be close to the scalp, often in the hairline behind the ears or at the back of the neck. Have all family members checked. Don't rely on schools to check kids; studies show that school screenings are not worth the time and expense.
Identify: Have a school nurse or someone experienced with lice identify the pest—dandruff can be misleading.
Determine if control is necessary: If you find live head lice or eggs within 2 cm of the scalp, take action.
- Use either an over-the-counter or prescription medication intended for treatment of head lice. Follow the label directions exactly.
- Wash pillowcases that may be shared.
- Re-treat after 9 days or according to label directions. No lice product kills 100% of the eggs, so you have to kill the newly hatched bugs.
Determine if treatment was effective: Continue to use the nit comb on wet hair to remove old evidence and check for new head lice.
- CDC’s head lice page: www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/index.html
- American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report on head lice: pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/126/2/392.full
- UC Davis’ head lice fact sheet (available in Spanish): www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/QT/headlicecard.html
-------------------sample newsletter article-------------------
Head lice happen, especially on kids. They are not a sign of poor hygiene or how clean your home is. Anyone can get them—doesn’t matter how long your hair is or how much you shower.
Fortunately, they don’t spread disease and can’t live more than two days off our heads. So if your kids get them you don’t have to clean every inch of your home. Head lice eggs won’t hatch unless they are on hair and they won’t infest pets. They spread when kids touch their heads together.
Does your kid have head lice? Not everyone gets itchy. Use a nit comb on wet hair and look for bugs the size of a sesame seed or tiny eggs glued to the hair. Don’t rely on schools to look for lice! Check everyone in your household. If you do catch a bug, bring it to the school nurse or compare it with this picture:
If you find head lice:
- Use either an over-the-counter OR prescription medication intended for treatment of head lice.Follow the label directions exactly.
- Wash pillowcases and anything else that had contact with the person’s head in the past 48 hrs. Use a hot dryer. If you can’t wash it, leave it in a bag for 2 weeks.
- Re-treat the hair after 9 days or according to label directions. No lice product kills 100% of the eggs, so you have to kill the newly hatched bugs.
- Continue to use the nit comb on wet hair to remove old evidence and check for new head lice.
For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/index.html