‘Anybody can catch it’: Winnipeg expert’s tips on how to keep kids from getting lice

Click to play video: 'Head lice – what parents need to know for back-to-school'
Head lice – what parents need to know for back-to-school
WATCH: As Winnipeg parents check over supply lists for their school students, local experts say lice-prevention should be part of their plan. Global's Austin Siragusa explains – Aug 29, 2018

As families prepare for back-to-school, the subject of lice may not be top-of-mind, but maybe it should be. Especially for those who are not familiar with their school division’s policy on how to handle kids with critters.

Winnipeg’s Lice Lady says while they are not included on the school supply list, two things anyone with school kids should be purchasing are a good lice comb and some peppermint oil.

Sarah Phillips said outbreaks of lice are more and more common, and early detection is the best prevention.

“Do weekly head checks on your children. You want to find that bug as soon as it gets in there.”

Across the city, school division policies vary on whether or not students with lice must be kept home.

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Most divisions follow the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority guidelines for handling lice, which suggest anyone found to have lice should be treated the same day, and schools and daycares should be notified.

“A child may return to school or day care after the first treatment is done and headgear, combs, brushes, etc. have been cleaned,” WHRA guidelines state.

Pembina Trails School Division follows the Canadian Paediatric Society guidelines which say kids with lice do not need to be sent home.

“Children with head lice should be treated and then attend school or child care as usual. ‘No-nit’ policies that keep children with head lice or nits after treatment away from school are not necessary because … head lice are common among young children. Many days of school would be missed if children had to stay home”.

St. James Assiniboia School Division did not respond to our request for information.

Regardless of how their school handles the pests, Phillips says vigilant parents should be able to avoid having to deal with the stress of an infestation. However, she warns that some of the evasive tactics parents have used in the past may no longer do the trick.

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“Tea tree oil does not work as well as it did. The lice are becoming resistant to a lot of old tricks and a lot of products out there just don’t work as well as they used to,” Phillips says. “Peppermint is being found to work a lot better.”

Hairspray, she added, might control fly-away hair, but it doesn’t really deter lice if they are in direct contact with the head.

The peppermint oil is a deterrent, Phillips says. “Lice have an amazing sense of smell and they don’t like that.”

“I just get a little spray bottle and fill it with water and put about three or four drops into the spray bottle and just spritz it over their hair.”

Phillips says there are a number of ways to minimize the chances your kids will come home with more than their homework.

  • teach kids not to share hair brushes, hats or toques
  • don’t let hair hang loose — keep it tied back
  • encourage kids to avoid head-to-head contact with classmates

While stories have circulated from time to time suggesting lice can be picked up from airplane head rests, bus or movie theatre seats, and even hotel pillows, Phillips says that is less likely.

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Things to do:

  • buy a good lice comb
  • use peppermint oil daily on hair
  • do weekly head checks
  • treat immediately if you find any adult lice or nits — either on your own, or by calling a professional

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