What you need to know about lice before going back to school

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What you need to know about lice

9:25 a.m. PDT September 8, 2015

Many are familiar with the word “nitpicking.” It’s usually thought of as a slang term for finding tiny, superfluous details.

But when it comes to head lice, the term takes on a literal meaning. Nits, or lice eggs, look like dandruff, or a clump of hairspray, but are difficult to remove. Some parents spend hours combing or picking out out these pesky eggs from their children’s hair with the hopes of getting them before they hatch. This is important as adult female lice can lay six eggs a day.

Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry has plenty of experience dealing with lice as a principal, teacher and parent.

“It’s no one’s fault,” she said, referring to someone becoming infested. “It’s just something that happens.”

Salem-Keizer district’s lice policy states, in part:

•Remove students who have lice from the classroom in a manner that protects their privacy. Exclude any child with live lice at the end of the school day. Respect the student’s and family’s need for confidentiality.

•After the student has been treated for live lice, a designated school staff person should rescreen the student before admitting him/her back into the classroom or school bus.

Perry said staff members don’t want to send the children home unless they have to.

“Teachers might not always be able to (tell) if someone has lice,” she said. Lice “are very hard to see and the teacher is busy teaching the entire class.”

An estimated 6 million to 12 million lice infestations are recorded every year in the United States among children ages 3 to 11.

Anyone can get lice if his or her head comes into contact with an infested person. This usually happens when children in school share hats, hairbrushes, blankets or pillows, and are hugging each other and playing.

Some people also are concerned about the recently discovered so-called super lice, or lice that are resistant to traditional treatment chemicals. As of last month, such lice had been found in 25 states but not Oregon.

Brittanie Rupea, a Salem mother, said she and family members have noticed an issue with lice in school.

“Some, if not all, Salem-Keizer schools don’t even do lice checks anymore because too many kids were missing school,” she said in a Facebook comment. “Obviously there is an issue here.”

Salem pediatrician James Lace said lice are more of an inconvenience than a significant health issue.

“Lice can be annoying, aggravating, and can cause discomfort, but they are not dangerous for major diseases,” he said.

Scabies, a condition when mites burrow under the skin and lay feces, is more common locally than lice, he said.

Lace added that the most effective way to remove the lice, besides cleaning the infested house furnishings and clothing, is to shave the infested person’s head and start from scratch. However, that is not always an option for people.

Pam Hutchinson of Marion County Public Health, said picking the nits out, rather than combing, can take less time.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest consulting your health care provider, local health department, or another person trained to identify live head lice if you are unsure of diagnosis, as nits, nymphs and adult lice are all difficult to spot.

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate

More information

The Salem-Keizer School District policy about lice, and related materials, can be found on the district’s website at salkeiz.k12.or.us. Enter “Lice” in the search bar.

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