The first step in preventing the spread of lice in a school setting is for the school nurse to remind teachers of the signs of a lice infestation. Teachers must look for students who are constantly scratching their head, especially on the back of their neck or behind their ears. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed and may be gray, white, or tan.
If a student is suspected of having lice, the child should be sent to the school nurse who will then comb through the child’s hair to verify infestation. If the child does have lice, she will be kept in the clinic until a parent or guardian can retrieve her. Once the child has been taken home, the school nurse must begin working to identify other children and prevent further spread.
All students the child comes into contact with should be inspected by the school nurse. Students in the same class, that ride the same bus, or that have the same lunch period should all be sent to the nurse. If the student has been in contact with a large majority of students the school nurse may need to inspect the entire student population. This can be accomplished by scheduling appointments for the students and may require the nurse to have assistants. If multiple students are found to have lice, sending a letter home is in order. Without identifying the student or students affected, parents should be made aware that lice have been discovered in some of the students at school. A request should be made of parents to have them also check their child as well as any other children in the home. If someone in the home also has lice, that person may unknowingly give it back to a child who has undergone treatment already.
Finally, the most important role a school nurse may play when there is an outbreak of lice in the school is that of a comforter. Many adults have biased attitudes about lice that are not factual and that can influence their children. Having lice is not a serious medical condition, and it is not found only on children with bad hygiene. Additionally, the school nurse should make sure parents know it is not necessary to cut or shave a child’s hair, as the medications for lice eradication are quite capable. It is important, however, that the school nurse reinforces the importance of checking other family members, as reintroduction of lice typically occurs in the home.
Have you had lice or had to tell a child and her family they needed to treat for lice? How did it affect you or how did it affect the children and family?