Lice: What Parents Need to Know

Research shows that, similar to viruses and bacteria, lice are always present in our communities. From time to time lice is discovered on a student at our school. Many parents become alarmed if their own children are found to have lice, but, remember, lice are not dangerous and do not transmit disease, and effective treatments are available.

The Health Office recommends that all parents and guardians check their children’s hair for lice once per week throughout the school year as it is best to detect lice early. Notify the school Health Office if you discover that your child has lice. While the school will keep your child’s name confidential, the Health Office will keep track of all known cases and will send treatment information to help your child become lice-free. Lice Management Policy

Additional Facts about Lice

Words to know: “Lice” is the English plural noun referring to Pediculus humanus capitis, a wingless insect that spends its entire existence on the human scalp. The singular noun is “louse.” “Nits” are the eggs of lice. A “pediculicide” is a substance used to kill lice.

Research shows that lice cannot jump or fly and do not like to leave a person’s head or hair. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics, and local companies, such as MN Lice Lady, confirm that lice spreads almost exclusively from head to head contact. Contrary to old assumptions, transmission of lice almost never occurs among inanimate objects such as coats, cots or even hats. Instead, lice spreads when children spend extended time playing together with their heads close together. This is most often seen at sleepovers, and play dates and during extended traveling time.

It is important for parents routinely to check their children for lice especially after any type of play date or sleepover with relatives or friends. Again, the school Health Office recommends weekly checks, whether or not a child appears to have lice symptoms.

Lice Treatment Options

Having conducted extensive research on lice treatment options, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses recommend over the counter pediculicide (lice-killing) treatments such Nix or Rid in combination with meticulous combing to remove lice and their eggs, which are called “nits.” After treatment and thorough combing, most lice will be eliminated but some nits may remain.* This is not uncommon. Hennepin County reports that it can take up to two weeks before lice and nits are completely removed. The recommended treatment is to treat your child twice with the pediculicide and carefully comb every few days for approximately two weeks to continue to remove any remaining nits. 

Although somewhat more expensive, professional lice removal companies also may be an effective option. However, if the company does not use a pediculicide and only one live louse goes undetected (they move quickly and are very small), then the lice will not be completely eradicated and additional combing and removal of lice and nits still will be necessary. A lice suffocating treatment exists using the non-prescription liquid soap Cetaphil (click here for Cetaphil method instructions), but there has not yet been extensive research on the effectiveness of this and other alternative treatments. No matter what treatment method is used, it is important to repeatedly check and remove any nits or live lice found for at least two weeks.

Extended bagging of household items is not necessary since lice can only live 24-48 hours off the head before they die. However, washing and drying bedding and other sleep items, along with recent clothing, on a high heat setting is appropriate as the hot air in a dryer will kill the lice. All other family members should be checked as well and treated only if lice are found.

Local Lice Removal Companies:

Pictures of lice and nits may help you with identification: Head Lice FAQs

Cetaphil Option:

Read detailed instructions at: nuvoforheadlice.com. The basic steps are:

  • Purchase Cetaphil cleanser in a pharmacy. No prescription is needed. It works by coating the lice and suffocating them.
  • With hair dry, apply Cetaphil to the entire scalp.
  • Once hair is coated with Cetaphil, wait 2 minutes for it to soak in.
  • Use a comb to remove as much cleanser as possible.
  • Blow dry the hair. Hair must be thoroughly dry, down to the scalp, to suffocate the lice. This takes approximately three (3) times longer than normal drying of hair with a blow dryer. The dried Cetaphil smothers the lice.
  • Leave the dry, coated hair for at least eight (8) hours.
  • After eight (8) hours or more, wash hair with a regular shampoo.
  • Repeat this process twice in weeks one and two.
  • The cure rate can be up to 97%.

Minnesota Department of Health Head Lice Fact Sheet, Dec. 2015

“Head Lice, a Lousy Problem,” North Dakota Department of Health; in particular, see pages 25-26

*There is conflicting information about what type of treatment is most effective in treating lice. Although the media have given attention to strains of lice that are resistant to pediculicides, research shows that such resistance is not universal.