Checking for ‘elephants’

CLOSE EXAMINATION: Head lice are common among young children. To check for lice, health officials advise parents to closely examine the scalp in three to four inch sections. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

CLOSE EXAMINATION: Head lice are common among young children. To check for lice, health officials advise parents to closely examine the scalp in three to four inch sections. (Pioneer photo/Justin McKee)

Head lice common in young children

MECOSTA COUNTY — When I was younger, every once in a while my mom would sit me down and comb through my hair piece by piece.

“I’m checking for elephants,” she would say.

I would laugh and think nothing more of it, as she moved from my hair to my sisters in search of “elephants.”

Later on, I learned “checking for elephants” meant she was looking to make sure we didn’t have head lice.

“I wasn’t going to scare you by saying I was looking for little bugs,” she told me.

Mothers are so smart.

Head lice are little wingless insects that feed off blood in the scalp.

“An estimated 6 to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “In the United States, infestation with head lice is most common among preschool- and elementary school-age children and their household members and caretakers.”

Although they are not dangerous, the saliva from lice can cause irritation and itching, and scratching can result in infection, according to Rich Kinsey, public health nurse at the Mecosta County Health Department.

Children contract head lice by sharing clothing, brushes or hair accessories with others who already have it.

“It’s very contagious and anyone is susceptible,” said Kinsey

According to Kinsey, lice are not attracted to dirty or clean hair. They spread despite the hygiene of the child.

“It’s a myth that they like dirty hair,” he said. “If your child gets them, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Commonly, children with lice will scratch at their scalp or complain that they feel tingling on their head.

“Head lice will not go away on its own, it has to be removed,” Kinsey said.

Head lice have a life span of seven to 10 days. Once the life cycle of one batch ends, the eggs hatch and a new cycle of lice begin.

“It’s an endless cycle until they are removed,” Kinsey said. “Parents should check their child’s hair in three to four inch areas close to the scalp for eggs.”

The eggs and lice can be seen, but are very small. A common place they are found is the nape of the neck.

“The easiest way to remove them is when the hair is wet,” Kinsey said. “The eggs are attached to the hair follicles and looks like dandruff, but don’t come off easily. To get them out, parents can pull the eggs out individually, and if that doesn’t work, they can talk to their doctor.”

After a child has contracted lice, health officials advise parents to treat the rest of the family for lice as well.

“Parents should wash all bedding, towels, toys and brushes in hot soapy water,” said Judy Knape, registered nurse case manager at Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals. “It’s not anything parents should worry about, but it does need to be taken care of.”

Knape also advises parents to notify school officials if their child has contracted lice.

For more information, contact the Mecosta County Health Department at (231) 592-0130.

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Posted by Katlyn Vuillemot

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