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Dear Lenore: Two children in my kid’s day care have head lice. Should I be concerned?

This is when words like “nitpicking” and phrases like “put your heads together” take on new meaning. Lice don’t travel through the air, but if children share beds, hats, coats or combs, there is a good chance for the little buggers to travel from one to another.

Any parent who notices his child scratching his head more than usual should take notice. Yes, you’re probably itching as a result of reading this. I can only ensure you that in many years of checking heads as a principal (we do the most interesting tasks) I never picked up any lice myself. I only saw live lice on one or two occasions.

It takes about a week or so for lice eggs or nits to hatch and another week for the immature lice to grow to maturity and start producing their own brood. In the old days, 10 or so years ago, most schools had a “no nits” policy. That meant that even after you shampooed your child with chemical shampoo to kill the lice and their eggs, you had to remove all the tiny white nits that might still be stuck to shafts of hair — hence the word “nitpicking.”

Many parents with poorer eyesight than mine didn’t succeed in getting all the nits out. So while the school secretary was on the phone and when the health aide wasn’t present, I got to be the one to do lice checks on returning students. If I found more than one or two nits, we sent the child home again. We also checked every child in a classroom if more than one or two cases were identified.

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Times have changed. As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, since, once properly shampooed, any remaining nits are most likely dead or empty shells, children are allowed back to class once they are treated.

If your child has head lice, in addition to shampooing, you must also wash with hot water all bedding, headwear and anything else you think might have been affected. Lice can’t live without something living to feed on, so if some things, like stuffed animals, are too difficult to launder, you can run them through a hot dryer for twenty minutes or seal them in a plastic bag for 30 days. Vacuum furniture, rugs and car upholstery often. Be sure you check other members of the family for itching or inflammation around the ears or nape of the neck.

Children who have had head lice should be shampooed again in seven to 10 days to be certain no new lice have hatched. Your elementary school will check classmates if there is an infestation in a classroom and will send home useful information to help you to check your family and delouse your home, if needed.

Lice are an equal-opportunity parasite. They don’t care how much money you have or how clean your home is. They can be difficult to get rid of, so if it happens to your family, do a thorough job and hope they never return. Inform the parents of friends your kids hang out with. Even if you are lucky enough to not get lice, discourage your kids from sharing the items of clothing that enable lice to spread.

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Lenore Hirsch is a retired school principal living in Napa. Send questions to lenorehirsch@att.net. Please include your child’s age or grade.

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