Summer is supposed to be a carefree time, for kids and parents alike. The worries of regular homework are replaced with ones of getting to camp on time, making plans with family friends and neighbors, and staving off the always dreaded, “I’m bored!” However, one threat that does remain year-round is that of lice. Even though many believe that being at school heightens risks of spreading the contagious little bugs, in truth no place where kids congregate in close proximity is truly safe.
While lice are an ever-present concern, you don’t have to spend the whole summer actively worrying about them. With a greater understanding of how they spread, what activities present special risk, and how to recognize them if they do arrive, you can count on a summer that is both lovely and lice-free.
How Are They Spread?
Lice are tiny parasitic insects that set up shop on the head and scalp, and which survive through the blood supply of the scalp. They spread no disease and cause no ill effects to the health of their host. However, they cause persistent itching and tingling, and are difficult to fully remove. Absent wings or the ability to jump, they move from one host to the next through close head to head contact.
This can happen through physical proximity―such as that which happens in sports huddles, horseplay, or even screen-sharing (watching videos on tablets or mobile phones with heads close together)―or through the sharing of items that routinely touch the head―like combs and brushes, hats, scarves, or hooded sweatshirts.
Many of us are well versed in the specific behaviors that allow lice to spread, but some of these threats are more prominent or take a different form in the summer months. A few “hot zones” of note that may pop up more in the summer than the rest of the year include:
- Sleepovers: Between all the communal activities that happen at sleepovers, and the prospect (generally for girls) of sharing combs, hairbrushes, hair accessories, and piles of shared bedding in close proximity, any trace of lice in this arena could lead to a larger infestation.
- Shared Towels: Beach trips and long days at the public pool can mean that personal towels are less guarded than they would be normally. Even though lice don’t survive long away from the scalp’s vital blood supply, the transfer of stray adult lice can happen through shared towels.
- Shared Helmets: As skate parks fill up for the summer and bike expeditions are organized, the prospect of shared helmets can present a risk to lice transmission in the same way that shared hats and scarves can do in the winter. Active cases of lice can be spread further if nymphs or adult lice latch inside, then reattach to new heads a short time later.
Telltale Signs and Treatment
The signs of lice are, for the most part, universal: If your child comes home with an itchy or tingly scalp, especially occurring after one of the aforementioned activities or instances, carefully check the head for nits. For more conclusive proof, a lice identification test can be performed to ensure that you’re not confusing a case of dry scalp or eczema for a lice infestation.
Should you find that your child does in fact have lice, there are a number of actions you can take to remove them while protecting the rest of the family. First, concentrate on as much manual nit removal as possible. There are chemical lice removal options, but many are classified as pesticides, and contain chemicals that lice have evolved past (hence the fears about superlice, already identified in 25 states).
If you’d like a chemical assist in nit removal, look for enzymatic and protein assisted varieties that focus on removing the lice’s waxy outer coating for a more comprehensive and effective extermination.
What Can Parents Do?
As the season of sunny and social days opens, talk with your kids about lice and how they’re spread. Help them identify risky behaviors, and practice with them how they can talk to friends about the risks. Have similar conversations with the parents of their friends, and keep lines of communication open if any children do contract lice. Information, diligence, and prevention all play a powerful role in keeping lice infestations from turning into epidemics. Play your part in keeping this summer fun, relaxing, and lice-free.