Four out of ten boys and girls from La Rioja had head lice before the pandemic

As Julio Masset, a physician at Cinfa, explains, “now that the social and health circumstances are back to the usual ones of the pre-Covid era, pediculosis, or infestation of the scalp and hair with lice, will again represent a health problem with a high prevalence in Spanish classrooms and homes, as it can be expected that boys and girls will again behave in greater contact with each other and that direct head-to-head contact is the main route of lice transmission. is one of the most contagious conditions, along with the common cold, so it is logical to think that its spread will enhance this course.”

The research by Cinfa and SEFAC is based on an online questionnaire administered to a representative sample of 3,072 Spanish mothers and fathers with children between the ages of 3 and 12 attending school – 4,204 boys and girls – living in all autonomous communities.

The study also confirms that in our country pediculosis is more common in girls, as six out of ten (55.8 percent) had lice in the three years before the pandemic, compared to half of the children (47.5 percent). “This fact is explained by the fact that long hair implies a larger surface for the transmission of parasites and because among girls, proximity play is more common and they are more likely to share hair objects.”

The frequency of these parasites in students aged 6 and over is also significantly higher, as the Cinfa study revealed that this problem was suffered by 55.7 percent of boys and girls aged 10 to 12 years and 52, 8 percent of those between 6 and 9 years old, compared to 42.9 percent of the youngest (3 to 5 years).

In La Rioja, nine out of ten (92 percent) families believe their sons or daughters caught lice at school, although 8 percent think they may have caught them in the pool. 4 percent thought it happened in extracurricular activities, in a family setting, or elsewhere, without specifying (also 4 percent in both cases).

ITCHING, THE MOST COMMON SIGN OF INFECTION

As Ana Molinero, 1st Vice President of SEFAC, explains, “although it is very annoying, the Pediculus Humanus Capitis or human louse does not transmit diseases, so it does not pose a health risk. In fact, pediculosis does not always cause symptoms, if any, the most common being itching and the need to scratch, which can lead to lesions on the scalp of children.”

In fact, two out of three families in Rioja (64 percent) detect pediculosis due to pruritus (itching) their children have on their heads, although more than half (56 percent) see lice in their children’s hair when combing, washing or check their heads. Other possible symptoms are lesions on the neck or behind the ears – the optimal areas for the development of these parasites – or the fact that the children sleep poorly, which can occur due to itching, but the interviewed parents from Rioja did not report these signs in any case.

The study also shows that apart from the physical symptoms, the psychological impact of this problem is significant, as two out of ten parents in La Rioja believe that the presence of lice affects their children emotionally, and 40 percent believe that it affects them directly – which is double-. This emotional involvement is more common in mothers, in younger parents, and in families with girls or younger children.

In our country, the biggest concern of Spanish mothers and fathers about lice is the itching and discomfort they cause (35.2 percent), followed by the possibility of the rest of the family becoming infected (17.3 percent). Other concerns are the risk of disease transmission (16.9 percent) – despite the fact that lice are not carriers of pathologies -, the “inconvenience” that involves treatment (14.4 percent), the rejection generated by lice (8.5 percent) and the stigma that the presence of these parasites can bring to their daughters and sons (7.6 percent).

“As research confirms, misinformation and false beliefs about head lice remain widespread. For example, one in four parents with school-age children (24.7 percent) continue to believe that head lice are linked to a lack of hygiene, leading some parents to fear that their children will be treated differently because they have lice. This fear of stigma and shame is actually one of the main reasons parents shirk their responsibility to notify the school that their children have lice, exacerbating a problem that, if managed well, can be resolved quickly and efficiently,” explains Ana Molinero.

Specifically, every tenth (13.3 percent) parent in our country does not notify the school when their children have lice, although this should always be done. The reason for this in every third case (29.9%) is shame and fear of the social stigma caused by lice. In the community of Rioja, all families claim to notify the school of the presence of parasites.

But associating head lice with poor hygiene is not the only false myth surrounding lice. For example, half of Spanish parents with school-age children still think that they fly from one head to another (55 percent) or that pets spread lice (47 percent). In addition, one in three (29.2 percent) believed that the best way to get rid of lice was to cut the hair, something that, although it may facilitate the application of treatment, is not necessary and can lead to more major psychological disorder in some children.

According to the study in La Rioja, nine out of ten families (96 percent) applied a pediculicide treatment to remove lice and also 91.7 percent thought it was effective. However, the study reveals that only 16.7 percent carry out the treatment correctly, because the rest do not apply the set of measures necessary to ensure its effectiveness: follow the manufacturer’s instructions, comb strand by strand with a nit comb, do not use a dryer, continue to comb the nits for the next two weeks and after seven days check to see if parasites are still present, in which case the treatment should be reapplied.

On the other hand, the additional measures used most often in La Rioja to eliminate lice are checking the hair of the whole family (88 percent), washing sheets and towels at 60ºC (80 percent), and instructing children to avoid sharing hair items (56 percent). In addition, one in three parents (36 percent) vacuum furniture, sofas and mattresses, and 20 percent isolate non-washable items in a sealed bag for a week.

In the community of Rioja, preventive measures are practically applied with the necessary frequency: half (50 percent) of families do not use lice repellents even when there are cases of lice in the immediate environment or the children have recently had them. In fact, in 44 percent of households, children with lice infected other members. In any case, mothers and families with girls or younger children are more likely to use repellent.

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