Lice in schools: Tackling the problem in time

Ingy Deif, Wednesday 5 Oct 2011

As we go on dealing with issues of children's health at the start of the school year, why not shed more light on one of the least talked about but most frequently encountered problems: the lice taboo

head lice

I never thought persuading a mother to tell me about her children's experience with lice would be quite so difficult. An extremely widespread problem, more common than we imagine, the stigma attached to it is such that people were in complete denial. The one mother who agreed to discuss her children’s lice on condition of anonymity gave me the impression that it was leprosy we were talking about; seeing her daughter scratch her scalp, she said, was a crippling experience:

"It was a month or so after my daughter started going to school. I noticed her itching and scratching her head, occasionally at first but then more and more. When I found out that it was a case of infection by lice I panicked, washed her hair vigorously twice a day and resorted to old-fashioned remedies like vinegar, which were no use. Then I consulted the health inspector who told me how common this was, clarified some ideas, and advised me what to do."

Said inspector, Health and Hygiene Inspector at numerous schools for almost three decades, Mrs Fatima Zahran provided us with the invaluable information: "In my experience, it is almost certain that a child will pass on such a contract the problem from another child at some point in time; there is no shame in it, the important thing is to check your child every once in a while and keep a treatment – spray or even shampoo, to be applied regularly for a while – within reach. The treatment should be given to every member of the family, and a fine-toothed comb used to remove the dead lice. Repeated once a week for two or three weeks, this process will promptly solve the problem."

Lice and nits are tiny, six-legged insects that happily do not transmit disease. They live in the hair to feed on the blood of the scalp, clinging to the roots and surviving up to 30 days at a time, during which period they can lay up to 300 eggs.

Mrs Zahran clarifies the facts that every mother needs to know:

  • Lice infection is very quick as they breed rapidly. The sooner you act the better the result.
  • They can be difficult to see but it is possible to detect them: the lice are light brown and semi transparent while the nits are infinitesimal white grains. You can also spot the black droppings of the insects on the pillows.
  • Lice do not transmit disease.
  • Part of the necessary clean-up is to wash the bed sheets in extremely hot water, and to spray collars of clothes with the specified treatment.
  • These insects favour heat and humidity.
  • Sharing caps, combs and brushes are a major cause of infection since the insect moves by crawling, not by jumping as is commonly understood.
  • Nits and lice may cling to eyelashes and eye brows in cases of severe infection.
  • Lice live in any kind of hair regardless of how clean or how long. Washing the hair frequently has no effect on the pest.
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