The seemingly yearly itch

By Deanna Wakkinen, I-O Reporter

The 2010 school year has begun and not too far in at all a notice has been sent to elementary students’ parents informing them that head lice have made their way into the school.

Lice are tiny insects that feed off of human blood. There are body and head lice. Head lice tend to be very prevalent in schools because it is also most prevalent in children between the ages of four and 13.

Lice are so prevalent, in fact, that in 1997, 80 percent of elementary schools reported at least one outbreak, making it more common than chicken pox.

Lice can spread easily from one person to another through close contact or through shared clothing or personal items, such as hats or hairbrushes. A louse cannot jump or fly.

These itsy bitsy bugs are about the size of a sesame seed when they are full grown adults. They feed off their host, not by borrowing into the skin, but instead, by piercing it. Head lice are not known to transmit any pathogenic microorganisms but in some very rare cases, scratching can lead to a secondary infection such as impetigo and pyoderma.

The first sign of these nuisances is the urge to itch. The urge to scratch tends to intensify three to four weeks after infestation.

Diagnosing head lice can be difficult at first, but confirming only takes the presence of lice or eggs in the hair. You may need to use a magnifying glass or you may be able to see them by running a comb through your child’s hair. In questionable cases, a child can be referred to a health professional like those at the Pondera County Health Department (PCHD).

The Meadowlark and Prairie View school policies state that all head lice incidents must be reported to the office and that the student must be cleared by the PCHD before returning to school.

The PCHD said that a student found to have head lice must receive appropriate treatment, usually a pedidculocidal shampoo such as RID applied according to package directions, before returning to school.

Nits that are greater than 1 cm away from the scalp and are not firmly attached to the hair shaft are not evidence of active infestation.

Craig Barringer, Meadowlark and Utterback Middle School Principle, stated, “When we find out a student has head lice, that information is confidential, but if we find we have more than one case of head lice, we then send information home informing parents of head lice in our school.  We also send home information on how to check for head lice, and remove potential problems for head lice in the home.

Our county health department does a good job of keeping us informed, and providing us with information that can assist families.”

The use of a louse comb can be an effective way to detect living lice.  In cases of children with dirty, long and/or curly/frizzy hair, an alternative method of diagnosis is examination by parting the hair at two centimeter intervals to look for moving lice near the scalp.

With both methods, special attention should be paid to the area near the ears and the nape of the neck. The person examining should examine the scalp for at least five minutes to be sure not to miss anything that could be crawling around.

Once lice are detected, the entire family should be checked. Lice are not transmitted to pets so you can leave Fido alone.

Those affected can be treated with over the counter products. Medications that kill head lice are called pediculicides.

All pediculicides except malathion are applied to the scalp and hair and left on for ten minutes, then rinsed off. Pediculicides kill nymphs and adult lice but do not destroy nits. For this reason, they may need to be reapplied seven to ten days after the first application to kill newly emerged nymphs. Because some pediculicides have significant toxicities, it is important to follow application directions carefully. A person should only be treated if there are living lice detected, not just because of an itchy scalp or because of the presence of nits (louse eggs).

Clothes, towels, bedding, combs and brushes, which came in contact with the infested individual, can be disinfected either by leaving them outside for at least three days or by washing them at 140° degrees for 30 minutes. An insecticidal treatment of the house and furniture is not necessary. Efforts to treat should focus on the hair or body (or clothes), and not on the home environment.

Some lice have become resistant to certain, but not all, insecticides used in commercially available anti-louse products. A physician can prescribe alternative treatments.

Home remedies have also been used in the past by families. Washing your hair with vinegar may kill all the nits in two days. Rubbing Listerine mouth wash on your head may kill the lice. Massaging your head with mayonnaise and combing it after two hours, or even after leaving it on all night, may kill all the lice and their eggs and is the mildest treatment of these home remedies.

Cynthia Grubb, RN,CLC from the PCHD stated, “While some sources suggest home remedies, the Health Department reminds parents that these remedies are not proven to be effective, and to use caution in the non-approved use of any product not specifically recommended for treatment of head lice.”

The Health Department also reminds anyone using a home remedy to consider first if the remedy could be harmful to the child, especially the skin condition of the child’s scalp. Keep in mind that most home remedies are not approved for that use by the CDC or FDA.”

For more information try If you think your family needs to be checked for lice, contact the PCHD for an appointment. You can contact Cynthia Grubb at the PCHD at 271-3247.

Editor’s note: information found in this article was generated from,, and