With the back-to-school season in full swing, parents are busy preparing their children for the upcoming school year. This could mean keeping up with immunizations, health and sports checkups, and making sure that their child is healthy for the opening of the school year.
However, there are some things a quick shot in the arm can't fix, including head lice.
Head lice is an essential precautionary concern to screen as children are returning to school. The Ohio Department of Health states that lice feed on human blood, which causes a nuisance of discomfort and continuous itching. Head lice live in a human's head of hair, feeding on the scalp.
Sandy Swann, director of nursing and former epidemiologist at the Trumbull County Health Department, said that with head lice, as long as there has been a host, lice always has existed. Swann said that lice need human blood to survive and lay eggs.
"With head lice, the lice or louse lay eggs on the hair shaft and secretes a glue that attaches their eggs on the hair shaft," Swann said.
"Lice like to go to areas of the head that are the warmest, which is the nape of the neck and behind the ears. The head is very vascular, and that is why lice find the head a perfect place to live. Lice needs a blood meal to continue their cycle of life.
''Lice can live off of a human host for one or two days, which makes them able to crawl on another human head," Swann said.
Tessie Pollock, public information officer at the Ohio Department of Health Office of Public Affairs, said that head lice are yellowish white bugs that live in the human scalp.
"The first sign of lice is itching, and then you can see the eggs, which are called nits, which are laid by the lice," Pollock said. "Nits are white in color and are hard to remove.
''While lice do not cause disease, they do take a lot of time to remove and get rid of them," she said.
There are many common myths associated with lice, such as it being caused by poor hygiene or unsanitary living conditions.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, any human, regardless of age, standards of personal hygiene, gender or race, can get lice through being in contact with a person who is already infested. Lice do not fly or jump, but transfer from the infested individual's hair to another person through direct hair-to-hair contact.
"Indirectly, lice can transfer from combs, brushes, hats, jackets and hoods," Swann said. "In a school setting, head lice are more common because children hang their coats and jackets close by each other, and younger children have a lot more close contact with each other, more so than older kids. The close contact in schools causes lice to get to one person to another. Sometimes people get lice because they live in crowded living conditions."
Furniture such as beds and couches are also places where head lice can be spread.
"If a person with lice is laying their head down on a bed or a couch, that lice can crawl off the head of the person and onto the couch. In this case, the lice can transfer on the next person who lays on the bed or couch," Swann said.
Swann said that lice eggs are easier to see in darker hair and more difficult to see in lighter hair. She said with children who have head lice, parents should also physically pull the eggs out of the child's hair, while wearing protective gloves.
Parents should pull out the nits or eggs with the help of a lamp or a bright light so they could easily see the eggs. However, Swann said that pulling out the eggs is a tedious process.
"It's a time-consuming process, depending on the patience level of the parent. Often times we get frustrated phone calls from parents, and we tell them that you have to have good lighting when pulling the eggs out of the child's hair.
''Some schools have a 'No Nit Policy,' which means that the child has to be completely lice- and nit-free to enter back in the school. We check and treat children on a case-by-case basis," Swann said.
Swann said that there are treatments and shampoos that help in getting rid of head lice.
"It's always important to read the directions on the bottle," Swann said. "Some shampoos or treatments require you to only use it once, while others require you to repeat the treatment for seven to 10 days.
''People sometimes get impatient when these shampoos and treatment products do not work right away and they will make the mistake of trying another treatment too soon. They will end up over-treating."
Pollock said that there are a lot of home remedies for head lice, such as petroleum jelly and mayonnaise, but she said that the research from health organizations suggests it's best for people to use a product designed for the treatment of head lice.
Households with lice also must be thoroughly cleaned, especially items in the household that the infested person's head came in contact with. The Ohio Department of Health states that it's important that bedding and clothing that was used by the infested person in the 48 hours before lice treatment should be washed with hot water and then dried in a hot dryer. Swann said that the hot dryer will kill the lice.
Items that you cannot put in a washing machine should be bagged in sealed plastic bags or 10 to 14 days, which helps prevent the reinfestation of lice.
To remove lice from upholstered furniture and carpeting, the Ohio Department of Health said that vacuuming these areas on a routine basis will prevent dislodged lice from further infesting.
Much like poison ivy, head lice gives the head an itching feeling that can be a nuisance, and scratching the itch can only make the condition worse.
"Lice is not considered a public health issue, but if you do not eradicate it, it will lead to itching and then secondary infection from causing open sores from scratching," Swann said.
"Lice have sharp mouth parts and crawl into human heads to find a place to burrow and get their blood meal. It's important if one person in the family has a case of head lice, we recommend that everyone in the family should get screened and checked for lice," she said.