After a long school year, summer can be a welcome respite for a number of reasons. Kids like it because they get a break from school, parents make more time to spend with their children, and more fun is typically had by all. This fun can include time at camp, providing entertainment and recreation for kids (and relaxing kid-free time for parents!). But there is one group that doesn’t take a break during the summer season: lice.
Although lice are most commonly mentioned as a scourge in schools, they can spread just as easily and quickly during the summer. VeryWell reports that in addition to schools, lice can be contracted easily anywhere that lice-prone populations congregate. They cite sleepovers and camp as two additional high-risk locales for lice to spread. And what is a sleepaway camp, but one long-term active sleepover?
However, just because lice have the potential to take over a summer away from home, it doesn’t mean their arrival is inevitable. Here, we’ll talk about some ways you, your child, and the camp counselors can prevent an outbreak from being the defining event of the summer.
Lice: A Quick Primer
Lice are tiny parasites that infest the head and scalp, drawing sustenance from the scalp’s blood supply. They have no wings and cannot jump, and so they rely on heads in close contact, and on objects that frequently touch the head―e.g., hair grooming tools, hats, hooded sweatshirts―to move from one host to the next. Although they can be highly contagious, they present few health risks beyond itching. However, because they are increasingly difficult to reliably remove, parents understandably want to keep their homes and kids’ heads lice-free.
Camp-Specific Risky Behaviors
The camaraderie that camps seek to build in their young charges can also create a culture where lice can spread quickly. Team builders and “ice breaker” activities, designed to help campers build relationships and get to know one another, can bring heads together figuratively―and, at times, literally. Additionally, a sharing culture can bring items like combs and hairbrushes, hats, towels, and helmets (worn for activities like kayaking or skating) in close contact with many heads. And, lastly, bedding is laundered far less often―if at all―during camp, than it would be at home.
Although it is difficult to spread lice through surfaces, the odds can be higher if multiple heads make contact during an active period: typically about 48 hours. Without thorough procedures to prevent any lice-infested individuals or items from spreading their problem to others, a lice infestation can move quickly through close quarters.
What Camps Can Do
Parents are well within their rights to ask camps about their lice preparation and management procedures, and can do so if such information isn’t already provided in pre-departure information. Some camps include this information in contracts and other preparatory paperwork, so be sure to read everything you receive thoroughly.
Camps also have the option of purchasing lice insurance for their facilities. Camps that make this investment are able to screen for lice early in your child’s stay, will have treatment options on hand if an outbreak occurs during their session, and will keep parents abreast of happenings as the outbreak progresses. Again, if information on these options isn’t presented to you in advance, ask camp directors and others you communicate with what the camp’s plan is.
What Parents Can Do
As your child heads away for the summer, have a conversation with them about lice: what it means, what signs they should look out for, and how they are spread. Ensure that their grooming tools, hats, and other items that maintain proximity with the head are clearly labeled, so as not to get confused with those of other campers.
If your child has had lice recently, or has lice leading into their stay at camp, combat the stigma surrounding this common occurrence and speak up. Let camp counselors know, as well as any friends your child may have attending camp. They can determine if it’s appropriate for your child to continue to attend camp, and create a course of action on how to handle the case in the camp community.
Lice are a common and relatively innocuous occurrence for many kids. Don’t let the threat of them dampen the excitement of a summer ahead. Take precautions to prevent an outbreak, help your child learn to do the same, and encourage them to enjoy all the diversions and excitement that a summer at camp can provide.