Back to school? Prepare for possibility of head lice

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Known medically as Pediculus humanus capitis, head lice are small, wingless parasites that affect up to 12 million children in the United States each year. They are highly contagious and feed only on humans. Once kids are back in school, it offers the perfect opportunity for the lice to spread.

Historically, youngsters swapped them while sitting together during reading and nap time. Today, the fastest growing segment of head lice infestations is teenagers, thanks in large part to the myriad of selfies taken with heads touching.

One school had an outbreak during football season from boys sharing helmets. Sharing hats or scarves can spread them as well.

Since these biters do not fly, they must crawl to the next victim and touching heads creates the ultimate superhighway.

Head lice bite victims along the hair line leaving itchy, red bites. The females lay tiny, sticky eggs along the hair shafts close to the scalp. These eggs are called "nits" and females can lay hundreds of them in their lifetime.

In Beaufort County, the school district policy is that students who are found to have head lice are sent home. Students are allowed to return the next day if they have started treatment and evidence of head lice are gone.

Years ago, the only treatment was removal of head lice and the nits. A special lice comb was used - on every single strand of hair - which is so tedious and annoying that it spawned the term 'nit-picking.'

Then came pesticides, and treatments involved toxic chemicals lathered on the scalp. Then the poisons were repeated every two weeks until they were gone.

Within the last year, headlines shared the news of "Super Lice" strains that are resistant to these pesticides. These over-the-counter chemicals are now ineffective.

Parents are now discovering alternative, natural methods. A local Beaufort product, Greenbug, with an active ingredient of cedar, will kill the head lice and safely destroy the nits so you don't have to comb them out.

There are also products made with tea tree oil that have been successful in treating adult head lice.

Prevention is the first step, so talk to your children about not touching heads with other kids. Before school, lightly spray hair and belongings with Greenbug or tea tree oil to repel the head lice.

And if you figure out a way to prevent teenagers from taking selfies, you've conquered much more than just head lice.

Louise Hodges is a principal of Greenbug, Inc., which was in the first class of graduates of the Don Ryan Center for Innovation.

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Health & Wellness
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