Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Scratching your head over lice?

Experts say not to panic and take these easy steps

By Katie Murdoch
Herald writer
Head lice specialist Jennifer Coursey combs through a customer's hair in search of head lice at Lice Knowing You in Mill Creek.

Purchase Photo Reprint Weekly Herald/CHRIS GOODENOW

Head lice specialist Jennifer Coursey combs through a customer's hair in search of head lice at Lice Knowing You in Mill Creek.

The mention of head lice can give some the heebie-jeebies and the urge to scratch at their scalp.
Meanwhile, the decision whether to stay home until the lice is gone or go to school and work is up for debate.
But for those ready to pull out their hair, health care professionals agree: don’t panic.
In the United States, head lice is most common among preschool-age children attending child care, elementary school students and people living with someone infested, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year among children ages 3 to 11.
Watching adults panic can cause a child to feel ashamed of having lice, said Rita Mell, immunization program manager for the Snohomish Health District.
“Treat it in a calm manner to not get so hysterical the poor child feels ostracized,” Mell said.
Mell said people should do a proper treatment and carry on their day.
“For most children and adults it’s not something to stay home about,” she said.
Public and private schools have various nit and lice policies. By contrast, licensed child care facilities across the state comply to one set of rules that require infected children to stay home.
People should treat lice like a common cold by staying home until they’ve recovered to avoid the risk of re-exposure, according to Nancy Gordon, owner of Lice Knowing You, a chain of lice-removal salons, including one in Mill Creek.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics said it’s OK to send kids with lice to school. I don’t agree with that,” she said. “It spreads like wildfire.”
The average person misses more than four days of work and/or school because of improper lice treatment, Gordon said.
The louse is a parasitic insect found close to the scalp and on eyebrows and eyelashes. It’s also found behind the ears and on the nape of the neck. It feeds on blood several times per day.
While a nuisance, lice do not spread diseases, Mell said. Furthermore, anyone can get lice regardless of personal hygiene and socioeconomic status, she said.
“Head-to-head contact is the most common way to get it,” she said.
Head lice are roughly 2 mm to 4 mm and the eggs, called nits, resemble a white grain of sand, Gordon said. While they don’t fly or jump from person to person, they crawl quickly.
Lice removal products can be effective, Mell said. A re-infestation can occur if someone missed a section of hair or didn’t use the product properly.
Lice survive less than one to two days after falling off a person. . The CDC recommends cleaning the home as well as disinfecting combs and brushes, among other steps.
“Environmental stuff should not be the focus; the focus should be your head,” Gordon said.
More bits on nits
• Nits are not contagious. Nits can only be laid by lice.
• Seattle head lice do not survive on the family dog or cat.
• You must use head lice removal. They will not just “go away” one day like a cold or flu.
Source: Lice Knowing You