Wood River Valley parents worried about a recent head lice outbreak affecting some of the valley’s youngsters shouldn’t be too concerned, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center says, but should treat affected kids right away and see a physician if over-the-counter remedies prove unsuccessful.
“It’s come to our attention that there’s an outbreak of lice in our community,” St. Luke’s spokeswoman Jenny King said Thursday. “We’ve received lots of calls to our family medicine clinics, generally from concerned parents who aren’t sure what the best remedy is, if their kids need to stay home from school or if they need to take them to a doctor.”
Dr. Julie Lyons, with St. Luke’s Clinic in Hailey, said the outbreak began about a month ago. She said the outbreak is focused on some of the valley’s preschools, but she declined to elaborate as to which ones. She said she was not sure how many cases there have been, but that it’s one of the most typical health issues that young children face besides the common cold.
“People overreact to lice in general,” she said. “They think it’s the result of dirty children and poor hygiene. It’s not. It’s just a very common problem.”
Lyons said anyone can get lice, but children contract them most often because of the activities in which they engage, such as sharing hats, hairbrushes, helmets and hooks at school where they hang clothes, and going to sleepover parties where they share pillows and bedding. She said to prevent the spread of lice, kids should avoid activities such as those, especially when there’s a known outbreak.
King said the hospital recommends two over-the-counter shampoos: Nix and RID for treatment. Lyons said if those don’t work, parents should bring their child in for an appointment. She said there are some new prescription medications that are quite effective. However, she said usually the shampoos fail only when they are not used correctly.
Lyons said correct use of either shampoo begins with a normal shampooing followed by toweling the scalp dry. Then, the anti-lice shampoo must be applied to a dry scalp starting with the roots of the hair and moving toward the ends, completely covering the scalp down to the ears and lower neck. She said the shampoo must then be left on for 10 minutes before being rinsed off. The last step is to remove any remaining nits (louse eggs) with a fine-tooth comb. If the shampoo does not work the first time, she said, the treatment can be repeated once only after waiting seven days.
Lyons said patients’ clothes and bed sheets should then be washed at more than 130 degrees or dry-cleaned. If that’s not possible, she suggested putting the items in plastic bags and leaving them “away from everything” for two weeks until all nits hatch and the lifecycle ends. She said people who sleep in the same bed as a person with lice and children who have been to a slumber party with a kid with lice should use the shampoo immediately. However, people who just live in the same house as a person with lice should check for nits with a fine-tooth comb before deciding to use the shampoo.
According to Lyons, keeping a child with lice at home doesn’t accomplish much as they’ve likely already had and spread the lice for about a month before developing symptoms. She said some people never develop symptoms, so it can be difficult to know who’s spreading the lice.
“We want people to know lice is a nuisance, but not a danger to your child,” King said.