If your child is enrolled in sports, you probably expect them to come home with a few bumps and bruises, along with any ribbons or trophies that they might win. What you probably aren’t thinking of your child coming home with is a case of hair lice – yet every year outbreaks of hair lice are traced back to helmet use.
What are hair lice?
Hair lice are blood-sucking parasites that are about the size of a sesame seed. They live on humans, found along the scalp and base of the hair follicles. They are found all over the United States, and are not limited to one ethnic or social group.
Hair lice are not known to carry any diseases, though they can cause intense itching. As a result of the scratching, some victims of hair lice infestations will suffer from secondary bacterial infections, redness, and welts.
When a hair lice infestation occurs, you may not always see adult hair lice. More frequently seen are the nits, or eggs, which will be firmly attached to the base of the hair. Nits will live for up to 10 days away from a human host, and each female louse will lay about 90 eggs over her lifetime.
How hair lice become a problem in sports
Lice often become a problem in sports when helmets are shared between players. Due to funding concerns, many schools will only have one batting helmet for several players to share. This can make it easy for hair lice to be passed from one student to another in a relatively short period of time.
Preventing hair lice
When considering hair lice prevention, it is important to note the life span of hair lice away from a human host. Adult lice can only survive away from the host for about 24 hours, but nits can survive up to 10 days away from a human host.
There are several things that parents and staff can do to help prevent hair lice outbreaks on sports teams. For starters, all helmets should be properly cleaned and disinfected before being shared. This includes being wiped out and vacuumed to remove adult hair lice and nits. The detachable foam pads and nylon straps are usually be washable and should be washed in between uses.
Microwaving should not be used to disinfect helmets, as this will damage the materials and the helmet’s integrity. If you are not going to need to immediately use the helmet again, sealing it into a plastic bag for two weeks will kill off any adult hair lice and nits.
A second way to prevent hair lice is to protect the hair of the person who will be using the helmet. The easiest way to do this is with a barrier in between. Disposable surgical caps are inexpensive, light weight, and easy to wear. They can be ordered in various sizes from medical supply companies. Shower caps have a similar effect though can be hot to wear during sports activities. Painters caps can help prevent hair lice as well, and they are thin enough to wear under a helmet. You could contact a local paint company to see if they would donate a cap for each player.
Hair lice are a pain and highly contagious, but with proper preventative measures should not cause a problem for your sports team.