AUSTIN (KXAN) - Mention head lice to someone and no doubt they will cringe and say something about their heads suddenly itching just thinking about the little, creepy crawly creatures.
But as our kids head back to school and back into crowded playgrounds, it's worth taking a moment to help prevent their spread.
The state's health department calls head lice more of a social nuisance than a public health threat. In fact, most school districts will not remove a child from school who is carrying lice eggs, or nits, but treatment is required right away.
KXAN News visited a newly-opened central Austin salon called MadCaps, dedicated to lice removal in children. Owner Jessica Knight showed how she used a fine-tooth comb to look though her 6-year-old daughter Addie's hair strand by strand. (See the slide show above.) Fortunately, Addie is lice-free.
If Addie had lice, Knight would also use a gentle, enzyme-based shampoo-type treatment. It's aimed at killing the nits and loosens them from hair follicles. It's unlike other treatments approved by the FDA that can contain harsh chemicals. Knight says those can hurt little scalps.
The state's health department, recommends parents always check with a family doctor before using any new treatment claiming to get rid of lice or nits.
But a lice salon is one option for school-aged children whose parents or a teacher discover they're hosting tiny yellow- or tan-colored nits. They're clingy eggs that need removing from strands of hair before they hatch into lice in just seven to 10 days, then spread.
In the last few years, most school districts in Texas brought in protocols based on Texas state recommendations. Austin Independent School District for one, allows children with nits to stay in class pending treatment. Kids found to have live lice are allowed to stay through the end of that school day. They cannot return until their scalps are free of the tiny bugs. And unless there's an infestation in a school, no notices are sent home. The guidelines are aimed at not unduly panicking a school population. But McKnight believes that's too lax.
"They are trying to be careful about not sending out any big alarms, but they have a pretty high number of people who have to be affected before they send out any notification. That's unfortunate," she said.
Even with such protocols in place, it can be difficult for affected students and their families to shake the ever-present stigma associated with lice. It's the notion that somehow someone with lice or their family is unclean. But lice are everywhere. They have been around humans for centuries.
Austin-based clinical researcher and vocational nurse Sherri Jones said she has found there tends to be a higher number of lice in coastal states like Texas because of humidity. She says lice, which live on our blood, are simply looking for healthy hosts. The more social that host is, the better for the louse .
"They do not jump around like so many people think they do, she said. "But they can crawl from one hat to another. In schools, you put a scarf down and another child picks it up. Girls are switching out their hair ties, switching brushes."
Salon owner Knight recommends parents check their children's scalps every week or so. She suggests picking a regular time, like right after a Sunday evening bath. It's a simple strategy to get a jump on lice before they crawl into your family's life.
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