With the new school year almost upon us, pharmacists are urging parents and guardians to screen children routinely for head lice every week when they return to school.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 children suffer from head lice at any one time, with 80% of head lice infestations occurring in children between the ages of four and 16.
Caitriona O’ Riordan, Pharmacist and member of the Executive Committee of the Irish Pharmacy Union, said: “Head lice are a normal part of life and are nothing to be embarrassed about.”
“Routine screening for lice helps to reduce the spread of the infection within schools and assists in reducing the scale of the outbreaks, which can be distressing for children, parents and teachers.
“There is no foolproof way of preventing head lice but the earlier their presence on the head is detected, the easier it is to get rid of the lice.
“Our advice to parents is to check their children’s hair regularly, ideally once a week. Treatment should only be applied if a living, moving louse is found. While it is understandable that parents want to try and prevent an outbreak, using treatment products as a precautionary measure does not work.”
“It is also important to seek advice from your local pharmacist on the product that best suits your child or family.
“Children of all ages are vulnerable to pesticides, especially those who suffer from asthma, allergies, or have a pre-existing skin condition. It is always best to seek advice from a pharmacist on the best treatment to use as there are a number of treatments available.
“If a child is infested, it is also necessary to check everyone in the family and treat them if necessary,” said Ms O’ Riordan.
She also reminded parents that head lice can’t fly or hop but are transferred only by head-to-head contact.
Here’s six tips from pharmacists on dealing with nits:
- Check children’s hair for lice regularly, ideally once a week. Use a wet comb made for the purpose. Combing through wet hair makes the process easier. Good light is important.
- Itching and scratching are common signs of head lice. As well as live lice, which crawl around the head, look out for nits which are tiny eggs that may look like dandruff but cannot be flicked off the hair.
- Check close to the scalp, behind the ears, around the nape of the neck, top of the head and under the fringe.
- Treat the hair only if live lice or unhatched eggs are present. Treat the child as soon as possible. Always ask your pharmacist for advice on the most appropriate treatment to use.
- Inform the school, contacts and friends when your child has head lice. The school can then inform other parents that there is an outbreak, so everyone can check and treat their own children.
- Always follow the instructions on the treatment pack and any advice given by your pharmacist. Products used to treat head lice do not prevent the infestation from occurring and should never be used “just in case”.