Stow Those Creepy Crawlies: The Ins And Outs Of Screening For Head Lice

If you operate your own day care center or work with children on a regular basis, it is important to have a plan in place for checking children for head lice. Head lice can easily spread from child to child, making early detection essential for keeping an outbreak contained. Follow these guidelines to effectively screen children for head lice.

1. Know the Appropriate Duration to Check for an Infestation

It can take time for signs of head lice to show up. In fact, for some cases, the lice or their nits are not visible for up to six weeks after the child's initial exposure to head lice. Make sure to check children for signs of head lice for the full six week period.

2. Understand What You Need to Look for

When searching a child's head for head lice, it is important to know what to look for. It is easy to mistake other types of head debris, such as dandruff or dirt, for head lice.

As you search the child's head for lice, you need to look for two things: small, white circles and brown bugs the size of sesame seeds.

The small, white circles are referred to as nits; these are the eggs of the lice. Nits are sticky and difficult to remove from a strand of hair. If you are unsure as to whether an object is dandruff or a nit, focus on the ease of removal. Dandruff easily brushes away from the hair, while nits do not not. 

If you see tiny brown bugs, these are the actual head lice. Some may mistake head lice for dirt and vice versa. Examine the head lice closely, as you should see signs of movement that indicate they are lice, rather than other head debris.

In instances where identification is tricky, use a lice comb to remove the questionable item from the hair so you may examine it more closely.

3. Recognize What Areas to Check

When you check for head lice, there are certain areas of the head more likely to show signs of head lice. These areas are at the crown of the head, around the nape of the neck, and around the ears. However, they are not the only areas you should check. Always check the whole head, just in case you are dealing with a mild case with minimal signs of an infestation.

Make sure that you examine the child's hat and coat for signs of head lice as well.

As a child care provider, it makes sense to have procedures for screening for head lice in place. By doing so, you minimize the spread of an infestation and help parents treat their children as soon possible.