What Parents Need to Know About Head Lice

13–15 minutes to read | Updated for 2019

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When your head starts to itch, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Since grade school, many of us have been groomed to think “head lice,” the dreaded term indicating that your head is infected with thousands of little scalp-eating bugs.

Just thinking about an itchy head kind of makes you scratch at your scalp, doesn’t it? While an itchy head often just means that your scalp is dry, head lice is nothing to scoff at. They can spread quickly, infecting dozens of kids at a time. Take, for instance, one school district in Pennsylvania.

Dauphin County rests about an hour and a half outside of Philadelphia and Baltimore. It’s home to Hershey, the land of chocolate and Hersheypark, and it’s also the home of the Harrisburg School District, where a recent “unprecedented” head lice outbreak took place.

In 2017, a handful schools in Harrisburg saw over 250 children get infected with head lice, forcing the closure of one of the schools for two days.

The Fosse School, which caters to kindergarten through fourth grade, closed for a Thursday and Friday because over 140 students came down with head lice. Not only that, but almost 50 percent of the students didn’t attend school the following Monday (due to lice or other reasons).

Soon after, another school—the Downey School, which has kindergarten through eighth graders—reported about 100 cases of head lice. A third school in the district, also serving younger children, reported having about 20 cases of head lice at around the same time

To help address the massive outbreak of head lice within their schools, the district’s public relations coordinator said they were in communication with various health departments in the city and around the state “to better understand the origin and scope of this unprecedented lice outbreak.” And that is often the best prevention to outbreaks of head lice: education of what it is and how to stop it before it can infect dozens of children.

The goal is to get ahead of the problem and make sure kids don’t have to miss a lot of school. But before we get into how to stop the head lice, let’s first look at exactly what head lice are and how many people are affected by them.

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