Schools Back and So are the Head Lice!

After teaching in an early years classroom for more than 20 years and being the mom of two, I consider myself pretty lucky that I’ve never had a personal encounter with head lice. That’s not to say I don’t deal with it in my job periodically. School has just begun and already the little critters have made themselves known. Yuck!

An article in the Washington Post states:

In a typical infestation, there are more nits than bugs since an adult louse will lay an average of five to 10 eggs a day and a newborn female needs only 10 days to become a mom. So the family tree grows quickly.

Although lice are no respecter of persons, school age children are most prone to them because they are more likely to be involved in activities in which transmission may occur.

Facts and Common Misconceptions Regarding Head Lice:

  • Lice can’t jump or fly. They crawl from one host to another and are generally passed via head to head contact or sharing of items such as hats, hair brushes, pillows, bedding, etc.
  • Lice thrive in hair. They do not care if the hair is long or short, blond or brunette, clean or dirty. They live on blood from the scalp and hair makes a great hiding place.  (I get creeped out just thinking about it!)
  • Lice lay eggs called nits which are sticky and attach themselves to hair follicles. Regular shampoo will not kill or remove nits or lice.
  • Lice can live up to 2 days without a host/source of food.
  • Lice can only be eliminated through the use of an effective hair treatment, combing out the nits and a thorough cleaning of all items that the “source” may have had contact with.
  • Although an itchy scalp is a symptom, there can be other reasons for an itchy scalp. Likewise, some people can have a full infestation and not have an itchy scalp!
  • Both nits and lice can be seen by the naked eye.

Dealing with Contamination:

  1. Treat the “hosts” hair by either purchasing commercial products or using a natural treatment. Continue to check for lice and nits daily until no more are found. You may need several treatments depending on the effectiveness of the product you are using.
  2. You must comb the nits out of the hair section by section with a lice comb. This can be a very time consuming process depending on the length and thickness of the hair.
  3. Vacuum all areas the “host” has come into contact with (including the car seat).
  4. Wash bedding, towels and clothing in HOT water and dry in a HOT dryer.

One of the concerns regarding treatment is that some lice are now developing an immunity to some of the pesticides/chemicals used in treatment shampoos and are rendering some ineffective. There are many different suggestions for products and remedies online ~ both natural and more chemically based. Whichever remedy you opt for, be very cautious and thorough in doing daily checks to ensure the treatment has worked. A lice problem can quickly get out of control when someone feels they have cleaned and treated properly, but then stop doing regular checks.

Although I’ve never personally encountered the little pests, I have tea tree oil in my medicine cabinet at home. It is a recommended home remedy for treating lice and I bought it as a precaution when there was an infestation in my classroom a few years back. I didn’t know this, but a student’s mom recently suggested adding a few drops of tea tree oil to your regular shampoo as a great way to help prevent lice. Like any product, some people may have an allergic reaction to the oil and many “medical” sites suggest that there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of this treatment. Besides this essential oil remedy, I also found some articles suggesting that lice are repelled by peppermint.

I’m certainly not a doctor, but I can’t imagine the chemical treatments are really that great for anyone. The bottom line is that no one wants to be saddled with an infestation of lice. Perhaps being proactive and adding a few drops of tea tree oil each time you shampoo your child’s hair might be a great option, especially if you know there are cases in your child’s classroom.  The oil has a wicked smell and I did not enjoy using it, the one and only time I did a preventative treatment, but a few drops may even go unnoticed. As for the application of tea tree oil as a treatment, there are several different recommendations for how to apply it and how long to leave it on. I think I applied it right to my scalp (I don’t really remember). Others suggest using it is as one ingredient in a “natural concoction” which may in fact dilute the potency, if someone is already playing “host” to the pests. I’m not really sure? The same mom also said that someone suggested spraying mouthwash on their hair before school. I wasn’t sure why that would work, but after reading about the peppermint, perhaps it is the peppermint flavoured mouthwash that would help to repel them?

It seems like the jury is still out on this issue, but at the very least I would be diligently checking my child’s hair until the issue is resolved. I’m not sure about the policy in other school divisions, but in our school we are required to send a note home to all families to inform them if there is a case of lice in the classroom. Out of respect for all of the other children and families, please make sure you tell the school office (as well as family/friends), if you find your child has lice. By informing the school, we can help to ensure other families are checking their children as well and hopefully prevent the spread.

The video at the top of the page is from Kelly the Kitchen Kop. She has two great posts about lice and shares her personal experience with a home remedy treatment. She had good success with a Neem oil shampoo, but for the full story, check out her posts.  She recommends placing combs and brushes in the hot dishwasher for cleaning and also suggests using a high heat setting on the blow dryer ~ lice hate heat. Great ideas Kelli!

Final Words of Wisdom:

Many years ago, one of the classrooms in our school had a lice out break. Like most parents, everyone was a bit paranoid and wanted to avoid infestation at all costs. One particular child arrived at school with her mom, who was in a flap about the lice. As a preventative measure, she had cut off a pair of panty hose and pulled them over her daughter’s head like a hat. She insisted her child wear this “contraption” until the “scare” passed. Luckily, the students were young enough that the kids just took the odd-looking hat in stride and really didn’t make a big deal out of it. For the adults in the building, it was a bit of a “tongue in cheek” situation…if you know what I mean. I think the stigma of wearing your mother’s cut-off pantyhose draped over your head far out weighs the stigma of getting lice….but that’s just my opinion. I must say, it is one of those stories you just won’t ever forget. Too funny!!

Remember contracting lice is not indicative of your family hygiene. Anyone can become infected!

About Cindy RoyI am a busy mother, wife and kindergarten teacher. I have a huge list of loves! I love my family, Springs Church, old houses, "up-cycling" and DIY projects, scrapbooking, volleyball, interior design, cake decorating, party planning, healthy eating, and sleeping. I am very organized and reflective, and am continually striving to do life more lovingly, passionately, effectively and successfully.

3 thoughts on “Schools Back and So are the Head Lice!

  1. Hi Cindy – I read on the People’s Pharmacy that Listerine is good to kill head lice. If it’s safe to go in your mouth, it should be safe to be shampood into the hair and combed through. Good luck. Hope you and your class remain lice free.

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