Head lice are a persistent problem in many schools. They are difficult to detect and are usually transmitted through head-to-head contact. Anyone can catch head lice - clean hair offers no protection.
A common misconception is that one of the first signs of head lice is an itchy scalp; this is not always the case, especially when they have recently arrived on the head. Head lice feed by biting and sucking blood through their host's scalp. Lice take between six and 14 days to become fully grown, after which they can reproduce.
Medically speaking, head lice are not regarded as a serious health problem. It is not possible, legally, to exclude a child from school for head lice infection or to send him or her home on the grounds that it must be treated before he or she can return.
If head lice are detected, the Department of Health advises that there are two options for treatment.
Lotions should not be used unless a living, moving louse is found. The instructions on the packet of the lotion must be followed carefully.
Unfortunately, some lice develop resistance to a particular insecticide. Therefore, if the lice is unaffected by the lotion used, a doctor/pharmacist/health centre should be consulted for advice on alternative treatments.
The 'bug busting' treatment method
Community Hygience Concern (CHC) has produced a bug buster kit, which aims to systematically remove live lice by combing through the hair and physically removing any lice found.
Some schools adopt a whole-school approach in which parents/carers check their children and family members on the same evening and treat as necessary.
Schools are encouraged to participate in CHC's National Bug Busting Days held on 31 January, 15 June and 31 October of each year, or on any dates which suits their needs. Participation can help to prevent lice circulating - if all cases are identified and treated at the same time, there will be less opportunity for circulation to occur.
The kit, which includes an illustrated guide and comb, is available from www.chc.org/bugbusting (current price £5.95 plus p&p). It is available on prescription for children who have live infestations. CHC also operate a helpline, available Mondays to Fridays between 9.30am and 4.30pm, on tel: 01908 561 928.
Need further advice?
Your first point of contact is your ATL rep in your school or college. Your local ATL branch is also available to help with queries, or you can contact ATL's member advisors on tel: 020 7930 6441 or email us. Please have your membership number to hand when telephoning and include it with any correspondence - this will help us to answer your query more quickly.