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Nurses say lice not rampant in Berkeley Co.

February 12, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

Nurses say lice not rampant in Berkeley Co.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Despite Berkeley County Health Department reports that suggest a lice epidemic has hit area schools, Berkeley County school nurses say that is not the case.

Elaine Renner, nursing director at the Berkeley County Health Department, said the lice problem is the most widespread it's been in five years, based on the number of bottles of lice shampoo the clinic has sold.

But some school nurses say they've been referring more people to the clinic for the shampoo because they learned that the clinic sells the $10 to $20 shampoo for $2.

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"There is lice, but there is no outbreak," said Marsha Spickler, nurse for Martinsburg High School, Martinsburg North Middle School and three elementary schools.

"Most of the cases we see are the same families over and over," Spickler said.

In a typical year, the health department goes through 384 bottles of lice shampoo. Since October, it has doled out 288 bottles, Renner said.

"I do know that other practitioners are seeing a lot of cases as well, even the private practitioners," Renner said.

But school officials said the problem they see is parents who can't get rid of the lice, or don't take all the necessary precautions to keep other family members from becoming infested.

Mary Jane Rinard, school nurse for Martinsburg High School, Martinsburg South Middle School and Tuscarora, Berkeley Heights and Winchester elementary schools, said she's had six cases in the past two weeks, which is normal.

She hasn't seen an increase in cases, just an indication that parents are having a more difficult time getting rid of lice.

"I've had more families frustrated with treatment not necessarily taking care of the problem," Rinard said. "I don't know if I've seen more than in previous years, just more difficulty getting rid of them," Rinard said.

North Berkeley Elementary School in Morgan County has had 20 to 30 cases since September, which isn't indicative of a widespread problem, said Principal Larry Messner. There have been years when the school has had as many as 60 cases, he said.

"At this point in time, I don't know of any cases we've had in three or four weeks," Messner said.

When lice crop up, schools take precautions, such as having children store their coats, scarves and hats in plastic bags rather than in community closets.

Often, parents are unaware their children have lice, Messner said. By the time they realize the problem, the entire household has to be treated.

"It's a problem with follow-up. It requires a thorough cleaning of everything in the home - you're talking about beds, couches, clothing," Messner said.

"I think the problem with it is parents aren't doing the total cleanup," Renner said. "If you have two or three children and only one child is sent home from school with head lice, they only treat that child."

Renner said lice cases seem more prevalent in elementary schools, but she's seen cases in all of the schools.

"I think the problem with it is parents aren't doing the total cleanup," Renner said. "If you have two or three children and only one child is sent home from school with head lice, they only treat that child."

Health care workers say total cleanup will reduce the spread and cut the chance that the lice will return.

Head lice aren't easy to see because they are gray and tend to resemble hair. Females lay 50 to 150 eggs, called nits, which are glued to the hair shaft and hatch in five to 10 days.

One popular myth is that head lice can jump from host to host, but that's not accurate, Renner said. Lice can only be spread through close contact, like sharing hats, combs or pillows.

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