Student Health Services
General Information About Head Lice
The head louse is a tiny wingless parasitic insect that lives mainly on the scalp and neck hairs, feeding off capillary blood through the scalp every few hours to once a day. THEY MUST LIVE CLOSE TO THE SCALP IN ORDER TO SURVIVE. The louse is about the size of a sesame seed. Lice (the plural of louse) are very common problem in children ages three to twelve years old. In elementary school age children, the prevalence of head lice tends to be 3% or less.
Lice are not dangerous. They do not spread disease. Their bites may cause itching which is the infection. Persistent scratching may lead to skin irritation and secondary infection. Lice are spread most often by direct head-to-head contact.
Historically, parents, teachers, administrators, and school nurses have believed that schools are the place children acquire head lice. Numerous studies have shown that school is not the place where head lice are most often passed from one child to another. Children are discouraged from close personal contact and encouraged to maintain a personal space in school. Children are more likely to come into contact with lice at those out-of-school social activities where children have close head-to-head encounters such as sleep-overs and normal childhood play where head lice are spread from child to child.
Although head lice are harmless, concern about them often elicits a disproportionate response that may cause substantial harm. Schools have fueled this response by screening many children when a single case is identified; sending letters home that there is a case in the class: and in some cases screening the whole school at the beginning of the year. Millions of hours of learning time have been lost; children have been kept out of schools for days; parents have lost work time; and many children have been treated for head lice unnecessarily.
Last Modified on March 23, 2009