STILLWATER – With school out, many youths may be heading off to camps and conferences for part of their summer break. If that is the case, both children and parents should know how to protect against head lice.
Because there are so many kids from different home environments coming together at one focal point, children’s risk of being exposed to lice tends to go up when they are in camp settings, said Justin Talley, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension livestock entomologist.
“Lice are a common problem throughout the United States. Anyone can get head lice.
It’s not about cleanliness or where you live. It’s a matter of who you come into close contact with,” Talley said.
Head lice are a blood sucking insect that can only be transmitted from person to person through direct contact such as through sharing a pillow, a brush or by having head to head contact with someone who has lice.
There are some key preventative measures families can put in place.
“Parents should talk to their children about not sharing personal items such as combs, brushes and bed linens, especially pillows,” Talley said. “The more they share those types of items, the more likely there will be a transmission of lice.”
Infestations can take between five and 10 days to develop after exposure, depending on the temperature and condition of the infested person’s hair.
The camp or conference medical staff should be trained to identify lice.
However, as soon as children return home, parents should immediately check them for lice, especially if kids are exhibiting abnormal behavior by flicking their hair or scratching more than usual.
To properly check for head lice, part the hair all the way to the scalp every 2 to 3 inches all over the head, and especially in the back toward the neck.
Head lice range in color from creamy white to brown and are visible with the naked eye.
“They’ll be active, crawling on and near the scalp,” Talley said.
Also, when children return home, families should immediately wash all clothing and bedding, and especially the pillowcases. These items should be laundered separately from the rest of the laundry in hot water above 125F and dried on a high heat setting.
In cases of a suspected infestation, over-the-counter lice control shampoos may be purchased for use. If the infestation is severe or if the over-the-counter product does not work, stronger alternatives may be obtained by prescription from a medical professional.
Lice control products typically require two applications – one initially and a second one about 10 to 14 days later.
“Regardless of the product you’re using, the second application is critically important because the first application doesn’t kill the eggs. Reapplying the product after about 10 days allows those eggs to hatch so you’re killing the remaining nymphs,” Talley said.