When children play at school and have play dates and sleepovers, the number of cases of head lice rises. That’s because head lice, tiny parasitic insects that live on the scalp, are most commonly transferred through head-to-head contact.
The Anne Arundel County Department of Health reports an average of 500 cases of head lice are found among local students each year. The health department's website states that head lice are not a health hazard, nor are they a sign of poor hygiene, and they do not spread any diseases.
In October, Broadneck Elementary School sent home notices regarding lice found in the hair of some students. Principal Alison Lee said it was no more than normal, and the number of cases was not considered rampant.
"If there is a child diagnosed with lice in the class then that class is notified per health department instructions," said school system spokesperson Maneka Monk. "We work closely with the department to work with particular cases and follow their direction in making sure parents and families are notified, and also to ensure that the issue doesn't come back."
Anne Arundel County has a "no live lice" policy in the schools, which means parents are notified when students are found to have live lice or nits less than 1/4 inch from the scalp. Students must be treated before returning to school.
What should parents know and do to prevent their child from getting head lice? Here are seven important tips:
• Teach your child to avoid head-to-head contact. No sharing of brushes, combs, hats, hair accessories, scarves or towels.
• Keep your child’s hair as close to the head as possible in either a ponytail, braid or bun. Using hairsprays or gels also makes it harder for lice to infest.
• Spray your child’s hair daily with a natural lice repellent. Available in drug stores, natural food stores or online, these products are designed specifically to repel lice with scents such as rosemary, tea tree, mint and lavender.
• Perform a weekly head check for lice and nits (eggs).
• Each child should have his or her own helmet for sporting activities. Keep an extra helmet on hand for when friends come over to play.
• Don’t assume that because your child is not scratching their head, that he or she does not have head lice—some children don’t feel them in their hair at all.
• To stay ahead of a head lice infestation, do a “comb-out” once a week with a good metal nit comb.