Head lice. Are you scratching yet? For many of us, just thinking about the word is enough to get us all itchy and scratchy. Although far from horrifying, the thought of these tiny, wingless insects setting up home in our human hair, laying their little eggs and feeding from our blood can spark some interesting reactions. The reality is, however, that for kids today, head lice are a very common occurrence. It pays to learn the facts about head lice to quash any chance of an epidemic in a child care centre near you.
1. Kids in child care are susceptible
Children are particularly susceptible to an infection of head lice, a.k.a. pediculosis capitis, because the lice are transmitted by close physical contact – most commonly head-to-head. It is no surprise then, when you consider the activities of kids in child care, most of which involve close contact, that head lice infestation is very common.
2. Head lice are not super heroes
Superman may be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but head lice don’t leap through the air from head-to-head. They need us to make life a little easier for them, a little more pedestrian. Actually, they prefer a little head-to-head contact. Head lice also do not sit eagerly in someone’s discarded hat for days on end, waiting for the next unsuspecting wearer to provide a new home. The Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council confirmed that head lice actually die from dehydration within 6 to 24 hours after being removed from a human head. So chances are, even if you put on the hat of a friend who has head lice, you won’t be scratching with a dose of creepy crawlies.
3. Head lice aren’t fussy
No matter what your age, skin colour, ethnicity, hair colour or hair type – or whether your hair is clean or dirty – we all seem to be pretty attractive to lice. So when it comes to getting head lice, anyone at the child care centre is fair game.
4. Child care centres have policies on head lice
Almost all child care centres will have a head lice policy in place. It is important that the centre’s policy is made clear to all parents and guardians of children that attend the centre. The policy will likely contain advice about head lice and treatment, and importantly, information about when the child can return safely to the centre.
5. Children with head lice simply need to be treated
If a parent thinks their child may have head lice, it’s important that they inform the centre immediately. Most centres will treat this information discretely and not identify children with lice, which should encourage more parents to come forward as well as reduce any feelings of embarrassment. Having head lice is so common, parents and children should not need to feel any shame about having them.
Now that these annoying infestations are better understood, dealing with the problem is not as bad as one might think. Usually if a child has contracted head lice, and as long as the child care centre has been informed, they don’t have to stay away for the rest of the week. When treated effectively overnight, a child can usually return to care the next day.
6. There is more than one treatment option for head lice
Luckily these days there are a variety of treatments available that are quick and effective to apply.
- Chemical treatments purchased at a chemist are probably the most effective way of eliminating head lice. These generally require one to two applications on dry hair, and then combing with a special head lice comb. Occasionally though, lice are resistant to these products. In this case, another product with a different active ingredient may need to be tested until elimination is successful.
- A more gentle but time-consuming method to eliminate head lice is the ‘hair conditioner and head lice comb’ technique. Unfortunately, this takes a number of days in a row of repeated, persistent combing. The idea is to apply a generous amount of conditioner to the child’s wet hair, from the scalp right to the tips of the hair. The hair is divided into sections and carefully combed through with the special fine-toothed comb at least twice until the entire head has been covered, removing both the head lice and their eggs.
7. Knowing how to prevent head lice will help prevent head lice!
Adhering to some basic steps of head lice prevention can drastically help reduce the spread of head lice:
- Children with long hair should have it tied hair back or plaited at child care or when playing with other children
- Encourage children to avoid head-to-head contact while playing, painting, drawing or reading
- Do not share brushes, combs, or hats (if recently worn by another person)
- Undertake a routine check of your child’s head for lice every week, and treat head lice quickly if they are detected.
Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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