HARRISON, N.Y. - Harrison Avenue Elementary School Nurse Lisa Arlotta said the school has increased efforts to avoid head lice in light of recent outbreaks.
"Children get head lice almost as much as the common cold," Arlotta said. "Millions of students contract head lice each year."
Pediculus humanus capitis: the formal Latin name is impressive, but the common head louse tiny and wingless -- makes its presence known in the sheer number of those it affects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that six to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children ages three to 11.
Head lice are parasitic insects often found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes of people. And while they do feed on human blood several times a day and thrive living in proximity to the scalp, head lice do not spread disease. They take three forms: egg (also called a nit), nymph and adult.
Infestation with head lice is most common among pre-schoolchildren who attend childcare and in elementary schoolchildren -- and then the household members of infested children.
Head lice and you might find your scalp itching in just reading a description do not hop or fly. Instead, they crawl. They are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person, and anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice is at greatest risk.
But contrary to old wives' tales, head lice are not spread through contact with clothing (hats, scarves, coats) or other personal items (combs, brushes, towels) used by an infested person. Therefore personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school is irrelevant to the spread of head lice.
Shampoos containing either pyrethrin (Rid, others) or permethrin (Nix) are often the first option used to combat lice infestations, but users need to follow directions very closely. In some locations, lice have grown resistant to ingredients in over-the-counter lice treatments. In this case, sufferers should see a health care provider for prescription treatment.
With Halloween around the corner, Arlotta said children and parents should be extra careful with costume sharing.
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