White Plains, MD – Back to school time heightens concerns about a small but serious problem. A parasitic insect known as the head louse can be found on heads, eyebrows and eyelashes of people all over the world.

“In the United States, infestation with head lice is most common among pre-school children attending child care, elementary schoolchildren and the household members of infested children,” a fact sheet from the Charles County Department of Health stated.

Hard, reliable data on the number of individuals plagued annually by head lice is not available. However, health experts estimate between six and 12 million infestations occur each year in the U.S. among children 3 to 11 years-old.

“It’s not really a disease, it’s a nuisance,” said Donna Nichols, supervisor of School Health for Calvert County Public Schools Department of Student Services. “The biggest problem we have is parent panic.”

Over the summer there were reports a “mutated” strain of head lice—dubbed “super lice”—has become active across the nation. The super lice may be resistant to over-the-counter medications used to treat infestations.

According to Charles County Department of Health spokesman William Leebel, if a child’s lice infestation continues following home treatment “it may be necessary to visit your healthcare provider for prescription medication.”

Leebel told The BayNet that there are currently no reports of super lice in Maryland.
“It hasn’t been a topic,” said St. Mary’s County Public Schools Supervisor of Health Services Trish Wince. “But anytime we have students back in schools we might have cases.”

So how do lice end up on the heads of school children? The miniscule, light-colored insects spread from head-to-head contact. “Head lice move by crawling,” Leebel stated. “Anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice is at greatest risk. Lice is also spread by contact with clothing—such as hats, scarves, coats—or other personal items—such as combs, brushes or towels.”

Several health experts throughout the country have reported the social media photo practice of group “selfies” is also helping spread head lice infestations, since the photo subjects have their heads close together while the picture is being taken.

According to Charles County Department of Health Supervisor of Communicable Disease Investigation Melanie Gardiner, while head lice feed on human blood, they do not spread infectious diseases. Gardiner suggests following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended guidelines to get rid of head lice.

“The biggest thing is to pick the nits [eggs or offspring of the lice],” said Nichols. “Check everyone in the whole household. Unfortunately, there isn’t one quick fix. It’s just a very time consuming process.”

Both Wince and Nichols confirmed that their respective school systems send students with infestations home until they are lice-free.

Gardiner stated that many head lice medications are available over-the-counter at local drug stores and pharmacies. “These are usually medicated shampoos,” said Gardiner. “Use an over-the-counter product approved by the Food and Drug Administration. If crawling lice are still seen after a full course of treatment contact your healthcare provider. Treatment for head lice is recommended for persons diagnosed with an active infestation.”

“It’s important to thoroughly wash and disinfest all clothing, bedding and towels,” said Charles County Health Officer Dr. Dianna Abney. “Parents need to be diligent on checking and rechecking children for infestation.”

For information on head lice from CDC, visit www.cdc.gov

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com