Myths and facts about head lice from ConVal nurses and a local pediatrician
Head lice cause unnecessary absence from school and work, millions of dollars misspent on remedies and unnecessary treatment and misdiagnosed infestations. The following are some myths and truths about head lice:
Myth: Head lice jump from person to person.
Fact: Head lice are wingless insects about an 1∕8-inch long. They cannot hop, jump or fly.
Myth: My pet can carry head lice.
Fact: Head lice feed only on human blood. They cannot survive off the human head as they rapidly die from starvation and water loss.
Myth: Lice are dangerous and carry disease.
Fact: Lice will cause itching and a rash, and can be annoying, but have not been shown to make children sick. They are not considered a medical or a public health problem. However, children who have head lice can experience intense itching and the skin can become infected from scratching. More than likely, the greatest harm associated with head lice could come from the well-meaning but misguided use (and overuse) of toxic treatments to kill them.
Myth: Only dirty kids get lice.
Fact: Personal hygiene has little to do with it. Lice can survive 24 hours underwater and they are not killed by soap and water.
Myth: I should spray insecticide inside my house to kill stray lice.
Fact: Lice can only survive for a day or two off the human head. Nits (eggs) that hatch will die if they don’t find food within hours. There is no need to spray insecticide or clean every inch of the house. Vacuum any items and areas you think your child may have rested their head on, wash their linens and towels with hot water and put them in a hot dryer to kill any lice or nits. Spend your time on the hair instead of on intensive cleaning.
Myth: Head lice can be treated with kerosene.
Fact: Absolutely not! This is very dangerous. Consult your child’s heath care provider for treatment recommendations. These treatments might include pediculocides, suffocation and others. Keep in mind that because the egg is particularly resistant to some chemical treatments, a second treatment is often required about 10 days later to target the newly hatched lice. Also, every successful lice removal program must include daily manual nitpicking. Lice combs work well as do finger nails. Getting rid of head lice requires time and patience. It can take four to six weeks to remove all viable nits.
Myth: Kids are most likely to get head lice in school.
Fact: This is a common misconception, probably stemming from the fact that school-age children are at an increased risk for getting head lice. The fact is, kids tend to get head lice from places and activities where they are more likely to have direct head-to-head contact, for example at slumber parties.
Myth: Head lice are extremely contagious and children who are diagnosed with head lice should be isolated until all the nits are gone.
Fact: The truth is that lice are most frequently spread through head-to-head contact, which allows the lice to travel from one person to another. Since they cannot jump from person to person, transmission can be prevented by taking such precautions as not sharing personal items and avoiding close contact. Isolation of a child who has head lice or keeping him out of school, as long as he has begun treatment, is not necessary.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses have recommended that schools revise so-called “no-nit” policies, which require children to be kept out of school until they are completely free of nits and lice.
Myth: My child’s school will check for head lice.
Fact: No. Screening for nits is not an accurate way to of predicting if children are or will be infested and screening for live lice has not been proven to have a significant effect on the incidence of head lice in school. Studies demonstrate that screening for head lice in schools does not decrease the incidence of head lice and is not cost effective. Education of parents in identifying and managing head lice is more effective. The ConVal school nurses are available for information about checking your child’s head.
Myth: I need to know as soon as there is a case of lice in my child’s school or classroom.
Fact: Lice is so common that there is almost always someone with lice in a school and alerts about head lice would be numerous. Parents should just make a habit of checking a school-age child’s head on a regular basis, weekly or so.
Linda Compton, a registered nurse with a Master of Science degree, is entering her 16th year as school nurse at Great Brook School in Antrim. She is past president of the N.H. School Nurses Association and currently the N.H. director for the National Association of School Nurses. Pam Murphy, a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science degree, is entering her 15th year as school nurse at Peterborough Elementary School. She served on the board of the National Association of School Nurses and is the immediate past president of the N.H. School Nurses Association. Suzanne Schoel, MD, is a pediatrician at Monadnock Regional Pediatrics who consults for the ConVal School District.