It is once again the time of year when head lice, or Pediculosis, become an issue for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District families.
The bad news: anyone can get head lice. In fact the parasites infest more than 12 million Americans of all ages and socio-economic status every year.
While the little wingless bugs are annoying, the good news: lice are not life threatening.
KPBSD policy states that no live lice will be allowed at school; no distinction is made between live nits and empty casings. District nurses uses microscopes to aid in the visualization and verification of live lice. Only children with live head lice will be sent home.
Lice are tiny bugs about the size of a sesame seed and range in color from light brown to grey. They have six legs and only live on the human scalp.
According to KPBSD health services coordinator, Naomi Walsworth, some schools in the district started the year proactively by sending home information for checking for lice before cases develop in the fall and so parents can check their own student’s head for lice; by doing so they can catch any cases early.
“We have kept information up on the KPBSD website all year as well so that parents can access it anytime. Many school districts do not send even live cases of lice home until the end of the school day, as lice are simply a nuisance but not a public health emergency,” she wrote.
She explained in an email that letters are only sent home in cases when there are several students in a class who have lice.
“It is not done when there is one case or even two, as it is very easy for parents and classmates to figure out who has lice and anonymity is lost,” Walsworth said.
For those students who are persistently itching, checking the scalp is best.
“Students are required to be checked for lice at school only if they are in close contact with someone who has been found to have active head lice, if they are the sibling or pajama party friend of another student found to have lice, if they are actively itching or complaining of their head itching or if they are returning from having completed treatment for head lice,” she wrote.
She said in years past whole classrooms were checked for the dreaded parasite, taking up teaching and learning time from students and staff.
“Mostly we would like to encourage parents to check students’ hair at home,” she wrote.
For those who get the call from the school nurse, there are many over-the-counter treatments for head lice. There are also kits to help repel lice for students who have been exposed.
Walsworth explained that the district allows an olive oil treatment to be used as a follow-up.
“Lice shampoos should not be used multiple times on a person unless specific in the labeling,” she wrote. “However, there are many people too sensitive to the medicated shampoo treatments to use them.”
More information on lice, including a calendar for olive oil treatments, may be found on the school district website, https://www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/students_parents.aspx?id=22641.
Sara J. Hardan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.