Head-lice cases flare up in Aspen
August 5, 2015
An outbreak of lice has many Aspen children scratching their heads, prompting child care facilities to alert parents and one facility to close down Friday for disinfection purposes.
"I've worked 20 years in early childhood, and there's never been lice in this building for the 17 years I've been here," said Dawn Ryan, who owns and operates Aspen Mountain Tots, which shares the Yellow Brick School with two other day care facilities.
Ryan oversees 20 children, none of whom have been afflicted by head lice, she said. She was first notified two weeks ago of the potential for lice, and said she took proactive measures by conducting a thorough cleaning of the facility.
At Carl's Pharmacy, the over-the-counter product Rid, a treatment kit to prevent or kill head lice, has been a hot seller.
"Ever since a few weeks ago, we've been selling through it like crazy," said Frankie Garcia, a technician at the pharmacy. "It started with children, and now the adults are getting it."
Head lice can be prevalent among children when they have head contact with each other. The insects, about the size of sesame seeds, reside on the human scalp and feed by sucking blood.
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There's a social stigma that goes with the parasites, which can cause low-grade fevers and can make their victims uncomfortable because of nagging scalp itches. They also attach their eggs, or nits, on scalps, which they prefer to be clean. Head lice don't, however, spread disease.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, in its updated guidelines on the parasites issued in May, played down the stigmas associated with head lice.
"It is important to note that head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of poor hygiene and are not responsible for the spread of any disease," the report said. "Despite this knowledge, there is significant stigma resulting from head lice infestations in many developed countries, resulting in children being ostracized from their schools, friends and other social events."
The report also noted that because head lice "are not a health hazard," children harboring the insects should not be removed from school. Aspen-area pediatricians could not be reached for comment Monday.
Kelly Beal, who runs the Early Learning Center at the Yellow Brick, said she closed the facility Friday so it could be fumigated. She hired Ecos Environmental & Disaster Restoration to do the job.
"Parents need to understand that this can happen anywhere," she said. "People can get lice from sitting in a public theater or on a bus."
Beal's nurse consultant, after spot-checking the children in the Early Learning Center's four rooms, made the call for the facility to be fumigated. Beal said she and an assistant spent Thursday evening notifying the parents of the 112 children in the program that the center would be closed Friday for fumigation. She said 12 children in the center most recently had head lice. Two weeks ago, the figure was one.
"At that point, we didn't know how bad it was," she said.
Ecos fumigated the center with what Beal called a "plant-friendly chemical that's not toxic to anybody."
"But it does look a little intimidating when they came in with hazmat suits and blocked off the doors," she said. "And the reason they wore hazmat suits is they didn't want to get lice on themselves. It does look scary, but it's very eco-friendly."
The owner and operator of a midvalley child care facility, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there were four to five cases of head lice there.
"My understanding is that it's been in the valley all year," the person said. "Everybody has been affected by it."
But Ryan said that until recently, "We'd always been told they wouldn't survive here because of the altitude. But clearly that's not the case."
She theorized that because Aspen is a global destination, visitors can bring head lice and host an outbreak.
Ryan kept Aspen Mountain Tots open Friday when the Early Learning Center was fumigated. Mares Playgroup, the other day care facility at the Yellow Brick, closed its operation Friday because of the cleaning.
A representative for Mares Playgroup said it has "not had any incidences of head lice, but (is) being hyper vigilant and trying to be as proactive as possible to prevent the spread of lice."