With the exceptions of the common cold, head lice affect more school-aged children than all other communicable diseases combined. Head lice is the most prevalent form of lice infestation in the United States, affecting approximately 10 million to 12 million individuals. This type of infestation occurs mostly in children aged 3 to 12 years. The peak times for outbreaks of head lice are usually after the opening of the school year between August and November but infestations are now common year round.
Studies show that the public wants to receive more advice from their pharmacist, and the trend in pharmacy practice is to provide more consultative services. Pharmacists have an opportunity to provide a leadership role in their communities to develop a safe and standardized approach to controlling head lice.
School nurses are often the first healthcare professionals to diagnose head lice infestations in children. Although lice do not transmit disease, many schools in the U.S. send children home if they detect live head lice. It is the position of the National Association of School Nurses that children who have been treated for lice infestations should not be excluded from school because of the presence of residual nits.
The primary goals of the school nurse in controlling infestations are to identify children with head lice and to break the cycle of reinfestation. Routine screening of children for head lice is often part of head lice management policies in school districts. Once a child is identified as having head lice, the school nurse can play a key role in working with the child’s family to eradicate the infestation. Education about treatment options and preventing reinfestation are topics the nurse can address with the family.
The school nurse also can function as a case manager who coordinates various aspects of treatment for an affected child. Because infestations can be very upsetting to students and to their families, the nurse can provide support and reassurance to the family as the child is treated. Participation of school nurses in developing appropriate and consistent policies and procedures within the school district is vital to the overall management of infestations. Their efforts to control and reduce infestations are necessary for the overall health of the school population.
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