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Lice more nuisance than health hazard

PA tells how to treat kids at Dudley Elementary

Kids, and their parents, and teachers at Dudley Elementary are dealing with an itchy issue.

Head lice started showing up in the lower elementary in mid November.

Local physician assistant Aaron Salomon said infestation can happen to anyone in any demographic, noting that he’s treating his kindergarten daughter.

“If one kid has it, it’s not hard for others to get them with kids hanging their coats next to each other and hugging each other,” Salomon said.

Salomon, who said he’s seen 10 students with head lice in the last couple of weeks, said it’s worse in grades K-3.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four kids get head lice while in elementary school.

Dudley elementary principal Teresa Messesmith said school officials are taking a proactive approach to prevent the problem from intensifying and keeping parents informed.

Head lice are small, tan-colored insects, a bit smaller than a piece of rice, that prefer the back of the scalp, behind the ears and above the neck.

Nits or eggs are gray-white specks that glue themselves to strands of hair.

If head lice is discovered on a child, Messersmith said parents or guardians are contacted.

Both Messersmith and the American Academy of Pediatrics say healthy children should not be restricted from school because of lice.

“It’s not a health risk like a tick or mosquito,” she said, noting that lice crawl and do not jump or fly.

Salomon said head lice will not cause anyone to get sick. He offered several suggestions on how to treat the problem.

Those diagnosed should use over-the-counter shampoos with insecticide known as Nix or Rid.

“The shampoo kills active lice but not the nits or eggs,” he explained. “Those need to be combed out.”

Salomon said nits hatch in about seven days and can reproduce in a week, laying seven to eight eggs a day.

“You can see how they get out of control,” he said.

Special combs come with the special shampoo or can be bought over the counter.

Salomon said not to use the special shampoo unless a person has been diagnosed with head lice, noting that Rid contains ragweed to which some people are allergic.

Head lice can also be eliminated by combing the affected person’s hair several times until nits or adult lice are gone.

Washing and drying hats, bedding and the clothes of anyone with head lice is also recommended.

Salomon said he puts his daughter’s backpack in the dryer when she comes home from school.

Big items, such as comforters, can be bagged and put outside or in a garage since cold temperatures kill head lice, he said.

He advised parents or guardians to check their child’s head every day or every two days to look for nits or adult lice.

What’s annoying about the miniscule creatures is that they cause the scalp to itch.

In fact, the CDC says frequent itching can cause a rash and possibility of infection.

Each day, school nurse Annie Cornwell inspects the heads of children, who might have lice or are being treated, and notifies parents if she finds any.

“She’s very diligent about checking who’s had them but it really falls back to families and how they treat lice,” Messersmith said.

To prevent the spread of the pesky creatures, students put personal items—such as backpacks and coats—in plastic garbage bags while at school.

Messersmith emphasized that having lice is not a sign of poor hygiene habits.

So far, Messersmith said parents of students in grades K-6 have been alerted about the problem through the Dudley Bulletin, by notes sent home with students and through ConnectEd, a phone system that relays messages to parents and patrons.

Junior and senior high students have also been notified through daily announcements.

Custodians have stepped up cleaning and vaccuming throughout the elementary, she said.

For parents and guardians who cannot afford to treat their children, Salomon said a fund in the elementary can help with finances.

“Sooner or later, we’ll win the battle,” he said.

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