The Good Thing About Lice

The school year is back in swing and that means many of you will be discovering the joys of lice. I know, I know. How can there be anything good about lice? Here is how I turned it into a good thing for me.

1) My own children had it so many times in kindergarten and grade one that I decided to join the Lice Committee at their school.  It was the first way I got involved in my kids school and I liked meeting the other ladies that volunteered and the sense of community it gave me with the other moms.

2) Unlike other parent volunteer jobs in the school, this one really let me get to visit with kids. And a lot of them!  One by one, checking their heads (which is really rather personal and you feel a bit like a baboon going through another person’s heads with chop sticks), I got to have a little visit with the other kids in my children’s school. I knew kids by name and learned a little something about them so I could say “hello” on the school yard to so many of them.

3) I got very skilled at finding those little critters and their nits and differentiating them from hair casts and dandruff, so my own kids benefitted from my keen eye as I got better at “early detection.”  I got a reputation as being the “lice lady” and could offer my services to moms who wondered, “Is this a nit?” “Go ask Alyson to check your kids head!” Ah, nice to share my talents and help others. I was developing my “social interest,” as Adler calls it.

4) When my kids had to be treated and have their nits removed, it was a nice quiet time together, usually involving hot chocolate and watching a movie together and often missing a day of school. Any “exception to the normal day” was a bit of a treat for us both.  We made it an occasion.

5) When I was in the hallways doing the head checks, I could overhear the teachers in the classroom. This gave me a “peek” into various teaching styles that I never would have seen if I was “officially” visiting the class.  Who doesn’t act differently when there is a visitor in the class? So it was a good way to get to know the teachers of the school too. The good, the bad and ugly of that.

6) I learned a LOT about lice and could calm people’s fears. Lice like clean hair, not dirty hair, for example.  Yes, they are a hassle to deal with, but are they are not dangerous.  And yes indeed, the incident of infestation does drastically drop after about grade two.  I needed to see that for myself when it seemed a bit “perpetual” that first year.

So – if you get the note home saying, “Nits have been found in your child’s classroom,” don’t have a hissy fit.  Check their hair and don’t pass judgment on others. This is a part of the stuff of life and if you get a good attitude going, you can find the upside to anything.  Now shall we talk about pin worms? No – maybe not.

SPECIAL REPORT: Stopping the cycle of head lice

Many parents worry that their children will get head lice.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that happens for six to 12 million children a year.

Stephanie Speers kids are part of that statistic.

“I went to braid [my daughter’s] hair, and my stomach just dropped,” Speers said.  She saw lice and their eggs, known as nits.  “I started checking [my sons’] hair, and I was like, okay so it’s apparently a family affair.”

Speers’ daughter had lice once before when she was younger.  She said over-the-counter treatments took weeks to get rid of the bugs and eggs.  Patty Ziegler had a similar experience with her daughter. 

“[Lice] are very contagious and will spread quickly,” said Ziegler.

More and more now, professional grade treatments like Ziegler’s are needed to get rid of lice.

“Most lice are super lice,” explained Karen Sokoloff.

Sokoloff added, many over-the-counter treatments don’t get the nits, and home remedies are ineffective.  “What will happen is they’ll comb out what’s visible, and they’ll leave in the tiny [nits].  They’ll just miss it.”

Many school districts have changed their policies within the last five years after recommendations from the AAP and CDC.  The Madison Metropolitan School District is one of those.

“We’re really trying to make more of a caring policy and a less exclusionary policy,” said Sally Zirbel-Donisch, the health services coordinator at MMSD.

Zirbel-Donisch said students at MMSD are no longer routinely mass screened for lice because research showed that wasn’t stopping the spread.  Also, students do not have to go home immediately if head lice are found.  At their parents’ digression they can stay through the rest of the school day because typically children will have had lice for weeks prior to the discovery.  They are sent home with instructions on how to remove lice and checked the next day.

However, a note is not sent home to all parents when a child has lice in the class, grade or school.  “A lot of times those children are stigmatized and isolated, and children in the class know who those students are, and so we really want to protect a child’s privacy,” said Zirbel-Donisch.

Speers’ kids go to school in Janesville.  The district reports a nit reduction policy, meaning as long as no live bugs are found on a student, they can stay in class even if they have nits.  The full Janesville district policy is available at the end of this article.

Speers said, she would appreciate a note going home to parents if someone else in her children’s grade had lice.  “I think it’s really frustrating. I don’t view contracting lice as anything different than the flu bug or a cold or something like that,” she said.  “I think that they should let parents know, so that they can be on the lookout, catch it early, not let the other kids just pass it… It spreads as fast as a virus.”

While the stigma associated with lice prevents some districts from doing this, many health professionals say the stigma is not true.

“I hate the stigma. It’s so backwards,” said Ziegler.  “It’s those kids with the clean hair and the most friends [who get lice].”

Health professionals say the reason for this is because lice are usually spread in a social hair-to-hair contact situation, and the bugs typically only can attach to clean hair.

“People think that head lice is a sign of poor hygiene, but it’s the opposite,” said Sokoloff.

No matter your school or district policies, health professionals suggest stopping the spread of lice by taking matters into your own hands and preventing future cases.

“That openness, that willingness to say, hey we had a case of lice in our family. Texting, emailing, calling friends and saying, maybe take a look at your child and make sure,” said Ziegler.

“The only way to stop the cycle is for everybody who hangs out together checked and treated,” Sokoloff said.

That’s something Speers said she was quick to take care of, notifying her son’s daycare and parents of her other children’s friends.  After she and her three kids were treated at The Bright Side, they went home lice free.

Janesville School District Head Lice Policy

Live lice – These are live lice that have hatched from the eggs and can be seen in a person’s
hair. They are capable of laying eggs and continuing the life cycle of lice.

Nits – These are the eggs that are found on hair shafts, can be hatched or unhatched. They are
cemented on the hair shaft and are hard to remove. Nits close to the scalp have not hatched. Nits
further away from the scalp (more than 1 inch) have already hatched.

Classroom – This is the specific room that a student with live lice or untreated nits were identified.

Grade level – This is the grade level (i.e. all third grade classrooms) where cases of live lice or
untreated nits were identified.

Unit – This is the two grade levels that share time together at recess/lunch (i.e. 4th and 5th grade, or 2nd
and 3rd grade).

  1. At the beginning of each school year, schools will include the introductory letter on head lice in the
    informational packet to parents. This introductory letter informs parents about the district actions
    on head lice and actions parents can take to help manage head lice in the school.

  2.  Keep Alert! Be suspicious of students who repeatedly scratch their heads.

  3. If a student is found to have live head lice, send the student home to be treated along with the letter.

  4. If the student is found to have nits only, contact the parent/guardian. Do not send the student home.
    Send the letter home with the student.

  5. All other household members to the identified case, should be checked. Household members should be sent home for treatment if live lice are found. If
    no live lice are found, the student may stay in school.

  6. Up to three students that are in the same school as the case person, who may be considered a
    suspect or close contact, should be checked for head lice. Students to consider include:

    • Frequent playmates.

    • Students who recently shared combs, brushes, hats, coats, gym towels and/or equipment,
      helmets, dress up clothing, etc.

    • Students who share the same locker or cubbies. Students who are frequent “huggers”.

  7. At the elementary and secondary school level:

    • If no other close contacts are found to have live head lice, the follow up screening can stop.

    • If 2 or more close contact students are found to have live lice or nits, proceed to check the
      students in the classroom(s) of the students found to have head lice.

    • If five or more students in the classroom(s) are found to have live head lice or nits,
      immediately contact the school nurse for further direction.

  8. Students sent home for treatment can return to school after completing treatment and changing into
    clean clothes.

  9. Upon returning to school, students will be checked for live lice. If no live lice are found, the
    student can return to class. If live lice are found, the student will be sent home with the proper

  10. Students with nits only and no live lice will be able to return to class. The school district supports a
    reduced nit plan. Students with recurrent cases of head lice shall be encouraged to have the nits

  11. The following actions are recommended to prevent the spread of head lice at school:

    • Store each student’s hats, coats, jackets in separate lockers or cubbies.

    • Do not have dress-up clothes at school that different students can play with and wear without
      being laundered between students.

    • Teach students not to share clothing, towels, hats, scarves, helmets, combs, hair clips, head
      bands, or other personal grooming articles.

    • Store smocks, gym clothes, etc. in separate lockers or cubbies.

    • For longer hair, braid your child’s hair or have it pulled back in a ponytail.

Itchy Head? Lice May Be to Blame

Unfortunately, at some point in a child’s life, a parent will more than likely have to deal with the dreaded lice infestation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lice infestations are most common among children ages 3–11, with an estimated 6–12 million infestations each year.

Jamie Primosch, said they commonly see infestations in young girls because there is more hair in which the lice can thrive. However, there are a few ways to prevent head lice in children.

Most important in the battle against lice is ensuring that your children do not have head-to-head contact with other children. That means they should be taught to avoid sharing hats, scarves, hair accessories, helmets, combs or brushes with their friends. Children with long hair should try to wear their hair pulled back, preferably in a bun, when possible. Primosch suggested the use of hairspray as a preventive measure against lice. Hairspray can cause the hair to stick together, making it harder for lice to cling to the hair. You may also try using certain essential oils, such as tea tree or peppermint. Although there is little scientific evidence that essential oils truly work, Primosch said that when she sprays them during treatments, she sees the lice run away from the oils.

Finding out if a child has lice can be difficult because louse (singular for lice) are small and move quickly. Parents may need to pull out a magnifying lens and a fine-toothed comb to find live lice. If you discover that your child does have a lice infestation, you should immediately inform your child’s friend’s parents, your child’s school, and any activities your child participates in, such as softball or baseball where the infestation can spread through helmet sharing. Additionally, Primosch said you need to ensure everyone in the household is checked for lice as it can quickly turn into a major problem.

To treat a lice infestation, invest in a quality metal lice comb and carefully comb the entire hair shaft. Primosch said parents can also use essential oils (peppermint, tea tree or rosemary), over-the-counter products or a mineral product, which has a high pH level that kills live bugs and eggs. If a parent chooses to use an over-the-counter method, Primosch recommends buying a separate comb from the one included and continuing to comb meticulously every day or every three days after treatment because many products only kill live lice and not eggs.

“If you miss any eggs, it’s going to start all over again,” Primosch said. Lice lay five to 10 eggs a day, eggs take 10 days to mature, and the life cycle of an adult is 30 days. Such a quick life cycle means that a case of lice can escalate quickly if not caught early.

Once a child and everyone in the family has been checked and treated, the next step is to clean other items that have been in contact with an infested person. Primosch said all bedding should be washed and dried on high heat (at least 120 F) to kill possible live bugs. Car seats, furniture and floors should be thoroughly vacuumed, and stuffed animals, pillows and hair accessories should be put away in a bag and isolated for two days.

According to the Alachua County Public Schools Parent Guide, children found to have live head lice will be sent home with instructions for treatment. A student may return to school following treatment and after all lice and eggs have been treated and removed.

lFinding and treating lice can be a daunting task, but by being vigilant with prevention, inspection and treatment, you can rid yourself and your family of this pesky infestation.

Do head lice change color?

According to the research of R. Hoeppli, ancient Chinese medicine used lice to cure “high fever and severe headaches as if the skull is cracking.” A paste made from 300 – 500 black lice, spread on the head, was said to do the trick. I must admit, I’d rather have 500 pureed lice on my head than 500 live ones, but the question this raised for me was where one would find black lice. Is there such a thing?

Head lice that I’ve seen have ranged from pale ivory through a golden – sometimes reddish – brown; magnified, they are transparent. Lice that have fed have a black mass inside – presumably blood in the process of being digested – but are not, themselves, black. There is a colour range, to be sure. But black? A literature search turned up some interesting things:

  • Head lice may have a natural way of blending in without actually changing color. Ibarra and Hall wrote: “Eggs and lice are well camouflaged, reflecting the colour of their surroundings.”

  • Newly hatched lice that have not fed are transparent (Meinking) and do not have color until after they’ve fed.

  • Color that matches the background has been shown to have evolved in other species of lice. This, however, refers to colour change over generations, not within the life span of a single organism.

The ‘wisdom’ that human head lice change color depending on the hair color of the host is oft repeated on websites and in non-academic publications. Published scientific information to back it up, however, appears nonexistent. Similarly, parasitology texts and laboratory identification references do not mention it

I remain highly skeptical that our head lice can change color within one generation, or that black head lice actually exist. I conclude that the Chinese remedy called for human head lice that had fed and had blood in their guts..


An itchy scalp and white objects in your hair can mean dandruff, or it might be head lice. To make sure you get it right, use our guide to spot the difference.

While they share certain similarities – an itchy scalp being the most obvious – there are key differences that distinguish head lice from dandruff.

Let’s look at three differences you can use to tell them apart.


The major difference between these two conditions is their cause. Head lice are small parasitic creatures that feed off human blood. Saliva secreted by lice irritates the scalp, and is the cause of the itchiness and sores that characterize a lice infestation.

Dandruff, on the other hand, is caused by sensitivity to oleic acid. This acid is a by-product of the malassezia microbe, which we all have on our scalps. Not everyone is sensitive to oleic acid, but in some cases it can cause irritation, itching, and flakes.


While there are similarities, it’s not that hard to spot differences in the way dandruff and head lice look:

  • The white flakes caused by dandruff are excess skin flakes, and as such will not be attached directly to the hair – by contrast, teardrop-shaped lice eggs are directly adhered to the follicle, often very close to the scalp.

  • Adult head lice can actually be spotted, although it’s a bit difficult. Use a head lice comb on wet hair under good lighting for the best effect


Because malassezia is distributed across the entire scalp, dandruff is not a localized problem: flaky dandruff patches can be found all over the scalp.

By contrast, head lice have definite preferences for their home. They’ll usually be found behind the ears and on back of the neck, both areas where they like to lay their eggs. Head lice symptoms are usually focused on these areas as well.

Now that you’ve done the hard work and know which of these conditions you have, it’s time to talk about treatment. First up: dandruff.

Treating dandruff

Compared to head lice, dandruff is fairly simple to deal with. A proven dandruff shampoo will help soothe the symptoms of dandruff, while helping to neutralize the cause and washing away any flakes.

For best effect, use your dandruff shampoo every time you wash your hair. Dandruff is a chronic condition which will come back if untreated.

Dealing with head lice is an entirely different story.

Treating head lice

Head lice hatch every seven to ten days, with a total life cycle of about four weeks. Any treatment, therefore, needs to take this into account.

Start with an over-the-counter head lice solution. Most of these will target the hatched lice, so you’ll need to repeat the process every week or so to make sure you get them all.

While you do this, you should also invest in a metal lice comb. These fine-tooth combs are designed to remove the eggs from the hair follicle. You should use your comb every day for about an hour, cleaning the comb of nits and lice on a disposable tissue or towel between strokes.

Unfortunately, as we’ve mentioned, the lifecycle of head lice is about four weeks, so you’ll need to keep up treatment for at least this long to make sure you’re completely louse free.

Or you can always call us at Larger Than Lice, we’ll be more than happy to assist you!