Male human head louse. (Wikimedia Commons)

Male human head louse. (Wikimedia Commons)

Head lice making the rounds across SD42

Head lice specialist Darlene Miller says it is all about containment and early detection

It’s that time of the year when head lice are making their way through schools.

“It’s a big problem every year,” sighed Catharine Watkins, the principal of Fairview elementary in Maple Ridge.

“I’ld say we probably have maybe one or two classrooms that are particularly not great,” she said.

Part of the problem is there are children in the daycare, there are also children that live and play together in townhouse complexes and children love to hug. Especially the little ones.

But this year is no worse than any other year.

Head lice specialist Darlene Miller, owner and operator of the Greater Vancouver Lice Clinic that does work across the Lower Mainland, says they are seeing less children with head lice this year than last.

“Some years we have districts where there is kind of a little bit more action going on. But right now everything is playing as usual,” she said.

Miller says it is normal for them to be called out for screenings after major holidays because many people catch lice during the holiday season and then the children go back to school where they can have close head-to-head contact.

“That’s why we are actually in the schools doing screenings now after the major holidays because transmission actually happens in that first five to ten days,” said Miller.

“Then by the end of the month the parents are starting to see the signs and symptoms of lice itself,” she said.

If you child does have lice, Miller says, don’t panic. It is not a health risk and your child won’t be sent home from school. You simply have to follow through on the treatment.

Head lice do not carry disease.

“The very worst scenario would be a secondary infection from multiple bite marks that you haven’t taken care of properly,” explained Miller, which would only be the case of a major infestation.

Head lice also can’t live in a house, they can only live on the carrier.

Scratching is one indication that your child has lice but there is also sleeplessness.

“Head lice are nocturnal,” explained Miller.

“Sometimes when the children are coming to see their parents during the night and they don’t have an obvious cough or fever, make sure you have a look for head lice,” she said adding that anytime your core temperature rises you will feel the itchiness and the activity of the lice.

When checking for lice it is almost impossible to find the live parasites as they are fast and able to scurry out of the way without detection. You should be looking for the nits or the eggs that are found by the hair shaft.

Parents that see anything suspicious should give it a little tug. If the item moves it’s most likely not head lice related. But if it seems stuck then they should have a general look in the area because the female lays eggs in eight to ten groupings per day.

When nits are found a comb out should be performed by dousing the child’s head with conditioner which slows down the lice and combing through the head using a high quality lice comb. Miller recommends the LiceMeister which, she says, is the only lice comb on the market that can be sterilized and reused.

Once a family is going through the removal process and they’ve done the first one or two treatments they are no longer spreading lice to others. There is still follow up to do but the problem is contained to the hair shaft and the scalp itself.

Miller suggests that the best thing a family can do is have a good look through the hair of their child once a week and once a month, whether they see lice or not, put conditioner in the hair and run the comb through it.

She also suggests that if there is any length to the hair that it should be worn up at school.

“Containment. It’s all about keeping your hair nice and contained,” said Miller, noting that early detection is also important.

Miller wants to normalize the subject of head lice because a lot of people are cleaning their homes when they don’t have to and they are combing out and doing treatment every day when they don’t have to.

Some people also feel ashamed when it comes to head lice, they think it has to do with hygiene reasons.

“Head lice do not know if you have clean or dirty hair,” laughed Miller.

Her best advice, don’t be afraid to ask for help.