Head lice is not a hygiene problem and one of the most common school children infestations

Health & Wellness Section 2014

By Mary Grace Eppes

MSU Ag Communications


MISSISSIPPI STATE – With the school year well underway, families across Mississippi commonly encounter illnesses, viruses or the contagious and bothersome head lice.

David Shrock, a health education and wellness graduate assistant at Mississippi State University, said the head louse is a parasitic insect that can be found on heads, eyebrows and eyelashes of humans.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person,” he said. “Anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice is at a great risk.”

Shrock said that in the United States, head lice infestations are most common among pre-school and elementary school children, as well as the household members of the infested children.

Personal hygiene and cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice.

“Sharing items such as combs, brushes, hats and helmets with an infected person can increase one’s risk of getting head lice,” said Cassandra Kirkland, family life specialist with the MSU Extension Service.

“The emotional and psychological effects of having head lice can be very significant,” she said. “Children may experience heightened fear, anxiety, embarrassment or shame. They may feel that they are at fault for having lice.”

Kirkland said the National Institutes of Health recommends parents avoid making children feel responsible for having head lice.

“Treating the infestation as soon as possible will aid in calming a child’s fears about having lice,” Kirkland said. “Parents can also normalize the experience by indicating that many children get head lice.”

Kirkland said parents can use a lice comb with long, fine metal teeth that are close together to remove lice and lice eggs, which are called nits.

“Parents may also want to use acidic shampoo and conditioner when combing out lice,” she said. “At least three hours should be allotted for the combing process to ensure that all lice are detected and combed out.”

According to the CDC, an over-the-counter or prescription lice medication, also called pediculicide, is the best method for treating lice infestations.

Kirkland said the NIH approves some home remedies that can help suffocate lice, including generous amount of hair gel; mayonnaise; or olive, corn or sunflower oil, but quick and effective treatments are required to break the lice life cycles.

“It is important for parents to wash in hot water all linens and clothes that the infected person came in contact with for the two days prior to treatment,” Kirkland said.

For more information about head lice, go to the CDC website at http://cdc.gov or go to the NIH website at http://nih.gov.