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REGION Officials: Watch out for head lice



Published: Sat, January 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Head lice has long been a problem in schools.

YOUNGSTOWN -- 'Tis the time of year for head lice.

Head-lice infestation often strikes schools at the beginning of the school year and right after Christmas vacation, said Beth Hall, a registered nurse with the Columbiana County Health Department.

These times of year are lice-prone because pupils aren't checked at home and are back in contact after spending time apart without treatment.

Some local health providers say there hasn't been any major outbreaks of lice this season. Hall said Columbiana County has had some reports, but no more than usual. The same goes for the Trumbull County Health Clinic.

"It's common, and it occurs a lot of times in schools because people are in close contact," said Nancy Norton, a public health nurse.

Keeping it under control: Dr. Glenn Charlton of Sharon Regional Health System said there's been an increase in head lice cases in recent years, although he said school nurses usually take care of the problem quickly and keep it under control.

Though Mahoning County hasn't had any recent outbreaks, Public Health Nurse Marti Borden said the board of health of typically receives one or two calls about lice a day year-round.

"There's always a problem," Borden said. "It's something that never goes away."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 6 million to 12 million people worldwide will contract head lice, or pediculosis, each year.

The small, sesame-seed-sized bugs cause persistent itching, burning and redness of the scalp. According to the Ohio Department of Health Communicable Disease Manual, a single louse or nit found can indicate infestation and should be treated immediately.

Who is at risk: Anyone who comes in close contact with someone who is already infested or contaminated clothing and other belongings is at risk of contracting head lice, but preschool and elementary-school children ages 3 to 10 and their families are infested most often. Females catch head lice more frequently than males.

Lice can live off a human head for up to 48 hours and can survive on the head for about 30 days, so prompt, effective treatment is imperative.

If parents are unsure whether or not their child is infested, a health-care provider or school nurse may be contacted for diagnosis. A doctor or pharmacist may be consulted for treatment.

Treatments: Anti-pediculosis shampoos and other over-the-counter treatments are available at pharmacies and stores like Wal-Mart and Kmart, and other treatments are by prescription, Borden said.

Borden said an infected scalp must not only be treated but all the eggs, or nits, be removed.

"It is a time-consuming activity," Borden said. "Kids don't want to sit still, and it's tough to get all those nits removed."

Although there are no serious health risks that can occur as a result of head lice, persistent, heavy itching of the scalp can lead to infection and recurrence.

Parents may prevent their children from infestation by encouraging them not to share hats, scarves or combs with classmates or other children and by conducting regular head checks.

"If you have school-age children, check those kids every couple weeks," Borden urged.




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