What are head lice?
Head lice are parasitic insects that live on the human scalp and feed on human blood. They’re not dangerous, as they don’t spread disease, but they are unpleasant and highly contagious. Lice spread quickly in environments like a school or a camp, where large amounts of children are likely to spend a lot of time together and share belongings. As a camp director, you’ll need to know how to respond to a potential infestation of lice. Read on for some useful lice school/camp prevention tips you can use to make your whole year a lice-free one.
How to detect lice
Any staffers tasked with maintaining the health of the campers, such as nurses or other health care professionals, should be familiar with proper louse detection procedures.
For louse detection and treatment, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends to check a child when they have wet hair. Sit the child under bright light or alternatively use a blacklight like the Lice Light available on Amazon from lice.org.
When lice or nits are found on a child, it’s crucial to quarantine them as quickly as possible in order to prevent the lice from spreading.
Check Upon Arrival
Most camps ask parents to check (and, if necessary, thoroughly treat) their children for head lice or other contagious parasites before sending them away. However, not all parents will comply with this directive, and not all parents may know how to check their children correctly. Therefore, many camps conduct an overall lice check for campers on the first day of camp. This is often performed by a camp nurse or other healthcare professional but most administrators and counselors should be up to the task.
Do the 8 day check
Even if your campers are all clear at the initial check, you’ll still need to be on guard. According to the Center for Disease Control nits take about 8 days to hatch into louse nymphs, and the nymphs take about 8 days to hatch into full-grown lice. This may not be a major issue for shorter sessions, but campers staying two weeks or more still run the risk of spreading lice that might have gone previously undetected. If campers are staying for more than a week, an additional check on the 8th day of their stay can help detect and prevent any further infestation.
Continually monitor for signs of itching and scratching
Lice don’t reproduce or hatch on a schedule that’s convenient for humans. An outbreak can happen at any time. All camp counselors should be aware of the signs and symptoms, that a camper has a lice infestation, and should know who to report those symptoms to as quickly as possible. Make sure your counselors watch for children who:
- Scratch their head often or complain of a tickling feeling in their hair. Lice move about in the hair close to the surface of the scalp, which produces that tickling sensation. Lice feed several times per day; much like mosquitoes, they inject an anti-clotting enzyme into the skin that can cause itching and irritation.
- Have small red bumps on the neck, shoulders, ears, and scalp. Mosquito bites are a frequent sight at most summer camps, but smaller bites that cluster in these areas can be a sign of a more serious type of bug problem.
- Can’t sleep at night, or seem groggy and cranky during the day. Lice are most active at night because of the lack of light, and the increased activity may keep campers from falling asleep. Campers may stay up too late for other reasons, but the combination of sleepy and itchy together might herald a lice infestation.
How to deal with an infestation
When your facilities host hundreds of children per year, you’re likely to get a case of lice once in a while. Early detection is crucial to preventing an outbreak, but you’ll need to contain and treat lice if you find them on a camper whose parents can’t take them immediately. Make sure you stock up on lice detection and treatment kits.
Most sleepwalk camps have a no-tolerance policy for the presence of any lice or nits, and for good reason. Lice are highly contagious among groups of children. According to MedLine Plus they are usually spread by:
- Head-to-head or head-to-body contact, which often occurs among children playing together
- Sharing of or contact between infested articles of clothing or accessories such as hats, protective headgear, scarves, hair ribbons, coats, or other articles of outerwear
- Sharing of or contact between infested combs, brushes, towels, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, or other soft objects
- Sharing of couches, chairs, or other furniture with an infested individual
It’s best to have policies in place that discourage children from sharing their clothes and accessories or touching the hair of other campers. Children do not always follow the rules, but campers who know why these rules are in place are less likely to thoughtlessly swap hats or brushes.
When lice or nits are found on a child, it’s crucial to quarantine them as quickly as possible in order to prevent the lice from spreading. Steps to take include:
- Inform the parents or guardian immediately. The child will need to be removed from camp so as to not infect the other campers.
- Remove the child and their bedding, clothing, and other belongings from the cabin. The child should remain in the health center or nurse’s office until their parents or guardian can retrieve them.
- The child should not take place in any further camp activities.
- Placing soft goods in a quarantine bag for 48 hours along with a treatment for the child should help prevent further spreading.
In most situations, ongoing treatment will be the responsibility of the parent or guardian once the child has left the camp. Your camp should have a supply of anti-lice shampoo and/or conditioner for initial treatment, as well as a plan in place to quarantine and/or treat the child further in case the parent or guardian is delayed.
Any furniture the child has sat on or used should be vacuumed thoroughly, as well as any indoor floors or carpets they may have walked on. Lice cannot survive outside of the human scalp environment for long, so repeated cleaning is not necessary.
Scalp treatment will involve a lice comb and anti-louse hair product. Follow the directions on the anti-lice product. Most products of this type will be applied only to the scalp of a fully dressed person.
Telling the parents
When informing parents or guardians of a lice infestation, it’s crucial not to “shame or blame” parents or campers for the situation. Lice are not a reflection on the hygiene or preparedness of the child or of the parent. If a child does have lice, their guardian should be informed quickly, preferably by telephone. Reassure the parent that the child is safe and taken care of; no parent wants to hear that their child has lice, and they will be worried about their child.
When an outbreak occurs, parents will want to know what they can do to detect and prevent further lice infestations. Provide parents with an informational sheet that outlines proper lice prevention and detection methods; this will reassure parents that you are on top of the situation and empower them to protect their children.