Two of the most common childhood parasites in Canadian schools are head lice and pinworms.
When kids are clustered together in classrooms, it's a prime time for parasites to go body-hopping. These infestations can be more than mildly uncomfortable, and can sometimes pose risks for additional problems like skin infections. Do you know how to recognize the signs your child has parasites – at the top or at the bottom?
Head lice are mainly spread by hair-to-hair contact, or by sharing things like hats, combs, brushes, or headphones. Head lice do not jump or fly, but crawl very quickly. They cannot be spread by pets. Having head lice does not mean you are not clean.
Head lice cause itching and a sensation that something is moving in the hair. Sometimes, due to itchiness and subsequent scratching, head lice can cause sores on the scalp, on the nape of the neck, or around the ears.
How to deal with head lice:
- Check your child's hair weekly, looking for signs of lice or their nits. You can also use a fine-tooth louse comb. Make sure you have good lighting. Nits are oval, whitish eggs located on the hair shaft, usually about the size of a grain of sand. Nits can be confused with dandruff, but while dandruff is easily removed, nits are not. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed and are hard to see.
- If your child has lice, remove as many bugs and eggs as you can manually, and talk to your pharmacist about treatment products such as medicated shampoos and follow directions very carefully.
- Launder all clothing and bedding on high heat to kill lice and nits. Vacuum your furniture and floors. Plush toys or other items that cannot be washed can be sealed up in a plastic bag and stored away for about two weeks to ensure the lice and nits are dead.
- Whether or not your child is affected, don't allow her to share a brush, comb, hairband, or hat with her friends.
Children catch pinworms by swallowing the parasite's eggs. This can happen if an affected child scratches his bottom, then contaminates a surface or touches another child with his fingers. Poor food preparation can also result in transmission of pinworms.
Pinworms often cause intense nighttime itching around the anus, or in the vaginal area on girls. Children may have difficulty sleeping, be irritable, or have a loss of appetite. Sometimes there are no symptoms. The "tape test" (patting the anal area with a piece of clear sticky tape to pick up eggs, which can be seen under a microscope) is an easy way to collect the evidence.
How to deal with pinworms:
- A doctor will prescribe a medication to rid your child of pinworms. Family members should also be treated, even if they are showing no symptoms. Usually a second dose is taken two weeks later to prevent reinfection.
- Wash toys, sheets, underwear, and pajamas to get rid of eggs. Take extra care not to shake sheets or clothing, as this can aid in spreading the eggs.
- Keep your child's fingernails cut short, and don't let him chew his nails or suck his fingers.
- Whether or not your child is affected, teach proper and regular handwashing, especially after the bathroom and before meals.
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