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Watch Out for Head Lice on Easton Scalps

EASTON, Conn. ? 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 federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 6 to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children ages 3 to 11.

Samuel Staples Elementary School nurse Carolyn Kearney says she runs into the problem in her work, but not as often as she suspects she should. “Sometimes parents don’t tell us their kids have head lice, because there’s such a stigma — it’s worse than the plague sometimes,” Kearney said. “So we don’t always know about it.”

Head lice are parasitic insects often found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes of people. And while they 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 preschool children who attend child care and in elementary schoolchildren — and then the household members of infested children. If you suspect your children may have lice, Kearney recommends sending them to her office for a checkup and not to worry about embarrassment.

“Sometimes we even miss [head lice], so it’s not like you’re not watching them,” Kearney says. “It’s hard to find sometimes.”

Head lice – and you might find your scalp itching in just reading a description – do not hop or fly. 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 or coats) or other personal items (combs, brushes or towels) used by an infested person. Therefore personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school is irrelevant to the spread of head lice. Still, Kearney suggests not letting kids share those items to be safe.

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 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.

“We don’t recommend the homeopathic [remedies],” Kearney says. “Because often they don’t work.”

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