Lice outbreaks common, harmless, experts say
Stigma often worse than the parasites, school officials say
Sandi Cranny uses a NitFree Terminator, a type of metal comb, as she looks for nits on the hair of a 4-year-old girl during a head check in Glen Ellyn. No nits were found. Shiny Strands is a business that caters mainly to children with head lice. Co-owners Cranny and Suzanne Comella use the strand-by-strand removal method once lice nits are found in the hair. (Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune)
The school nurses association recommends that children with lice remain in class, but be discouraged from close head-to-head contact with others.
The small parasitic insects, which feed on blood on the scalp, are mostly found around the ears and back of the neck. Children in preschool and grade school are most commonly affected because lice spread by direct contact with the hair of an infected person, according to the CDC. Kids are more likely to share combs and brushes and come in close contact during sleepovers and camp.
The most common symptom of head lice infestation is itching, and though the parasites don't make people ill, intense scratching may lead to a secondary bacterial infection, experts say.
Glen Ellyn resident Barbara Eichin, 47, said she and her three children –– an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 11 and 13 –– contracted lice over the summer and still are trying to get rid of it.
"We were itching our heads but didn't know what it was," Eichin said. "I couldn't find anything in their hair."
A friend suggested it could be lice, so she did some research on the Internet. "We finally found the bugs. I guess I didn't know what I was looking for," Eichin said. An inspection at her children's school found that no other students were infected.
The methods of treating lice can be controversial, with some advocating "natural" shampoos. The CDC recommends shampooing with over-the-counter or prescription treatments and combing out the bugs and nits. Officials of the manufacturer of Natroba, a new treatment approved for lice this year, say the medication is one of the first that kills both lice and nits.
Pillowcases, pillows, sheets, blankets, hats, scarves and other items that may have come into contact with an infected person should be cleaned or discarded.
Suzanne Comella, co-owner of Shiny Strands salon in Glen Ellyn, uses the "Shepherd Method" for removing lice, based on Katie Shepherd's advice book. Comella removes the bugs using her hands and uses a special comb to remove egg nits. The method can take up to two hours at a cost of $90 per hour.
"Most of the time it works," Comella said, "but because we rely on our eyes, we can always miss something."
Eichin has been using a lice shampoo to kill the bugs and spends hours a week combing out the nits.
"We got it under control, but (we're) still picking out the nits," Eichin said. "The hardest thing is that it's time-consuming and is just an annoyance."
Freelancer Alicia Fabbre contributed.