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Head Lice FAQ

What exactly is “head lice”?

Head lice are blood-sucking insects whose only home is the human scalp. They depend on our warmth and blood to survive. When removed from our scalp, they quickly dehydrate and die. Off the scalp, head lice will weaken and die within 24-36 hours. Lice lay their eggs very close to the scalp.

Most of newly laid eggs are found very close ( 1-3 millimeters) from the scalp, attached to the hair shaft. The eggs (nits) can be hard to remove because they are so close to the scalp and they are very small and can be translucent. Seven to twelve days after the eggs are laid, they will hatch, The louse will mature, lay more eggs and die within 3 weeks. The total life cycle from egg to death is around 30 days. Although lice move (scurry) quickly, they do not fly or hop. They cling to the hair shaft with six claws that conform (or mold around) the hair shaft. Lice do not drown in water. When exposed to water, they have the ability to go into a dormant state that can be maintained for as long as 4 hours.

Lice do not carry disease. They are considered to be harmless but a nuisance. When someone has head lice, they may experience intense itching. This can be very uncomfortable for the person experiencing it. It is possible to scratch the scalp to the point of open sores which can become infected. If this were to occur, antibiotics may be prescribed to fight the infection in the open sores.

How does the Muscatine School District handle head lice?

Head lice is a common occurrence in school-aged children. Research supports that this condition is more common in younger children because of their play habits. Most of the time, head lice is transferred from one person to another by direct contact. Although there has been some discussion that head lice can be transferred from the sharing of combs/brushes, hats and headphones/ear muffs, research does not really support this. Indirect contact by the aforementioned objects is much lower than direct contact.

The Muscatine Community School District does not have a “No Nit Policy”. This means that children with nits (eggs) are allowed to attend classes. The school nurse works with families on an individual basis to assist with detection and and best treatment options. Students who are found to have lice are managed on an individual basis.  The school nurse will remain in contact with the family during the treatment process until it is resolved. Students who continue to have problems resolving this condition may have their case reviewed with the principal and school social worker. Students are not excluded from school while they are being treated for lice.

Are classroom screenings done by the School Nurse to determine cases of head lice?

Currently, the MCSD employs seven nurses to provide the health care/education to all the students within the district. This means that the school nurse may need to travel to different buildings during the week to cover all the schools in the district. The American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the National Association of School Nurses (NASN)  does not support the practice of classroom screenings for head lice management. A parent screening their own child at home can provide a more thorough screening than what is done at school. School nurses will work with students and families on an individual basis and may screen additional students in the classroom based on professional judgement.

How can I screen my own child for head lice?

  • Visually inspect your child’s head under good lighting.
  • Part you child’s hair into sections and inspect each section, or comb through each section with a comb that has a very small space between the teeth.
  • Lice can be translucent or grey-brown in color, and will move away from the light.
  • The lice eggs, called nits, are grey in color, about the size of a poppy seed and stick to the hair shaft. Nits can be found anywhere, but common places include around the ears, and the nape of the neck.
  • Check all of the members of your family.

If children who may have head lice are in my child’s class, how can I protect my child from getting them?

Head lice are found most commonly in young school-aged children who are likely to have close physical contact with their playmates. Most studies have indicated that between the ages of 6-11 years, children are more at risk for getting head lice. It is felt that the play habits of children 6-11 years put them at risk. Hair length doesn’t seem to be a factor, although lice may easier to detect in longer hair than short.

If your child’s hair is long, pulling it back in a bun or ponytail may be helpful. In addition, the use of hair gel to keep the hair close to the scalp may be beneficial. Perform head lice screenings weekly, using good lighting, and allowing 10-15 minutes of uninterrupted time.

Teach your child not to share hats or hair jewelry. Although research states that this would be a remote way to transfer lice, it may be something to consider.

What is the best way to effectively treat head lice?

Please contact your child’s school nurse for treatment options and strategies.

Who can I ask if I have more questions about head lice?

Please contact your child’s school nurse for more information on this topic.

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