December 5, 2023
In 2023, Nebraska Extension launched a new program to address a persistent yet often overlooked issue: head lice. The Nit Kit program’s primary goal is to elevate the overall well-being of Nebraskans by combating the spread of head lice and offering safe and effective management strategies for affected children and their families.
The United States experiences an estimated 6-12 million cases of head lice per year, and while this estimation likely dropped due to COVID-19-related isolation, recent trends indicate a resurgence in cases, making this program timely and essential. The impact of head lice goes beyond the biting, itching, and scratching — “head lice are also responsible for an estimated 12-24 million school days lost annually, sometimes leading to negative psychological impacts on children and their families alike, ”according to a 2006 academic paper.
The Nit Kit program stands as a beacon of support, employing a comprehensive, child-centric approach to head lice education and resources. Its core focus is to facilitate informed discussions, rooted in science, on head lice-related policy that minimizes disruptions to a child’s educational, emotional, and social development during early childhood and in school. Through a “teach the teacher” approach, Nit Kit Extension educators collaborate with early childhood and school professionals, equipping them with crucial knowledge about head lice transmission and management. Innovative tools such as a mannequin head for practicing lice combing techniques, a head lice model illustrating the life cycle, and real specimens serve as effective teaching aids.
“My experience was wonderful, and my heart is full of gratitude,” said Mary Mise, health services manager at Educate Omaha. “We are looking to change our lice policy and procedure and now offer lice kits to any family who is affected, which is so awesome.”
In 2023, the Nit Kit team conducted head-lice-related training sessions, benefiting more than 207 individuals representing 79 organizations across 30 counties in Nebraska. And, for completing the training, participating organizations were eligible to receive actual “Nit Kits” at no cost to them. These kits serve as comprehensive toolboxes containing specialized nit combs, detailed instructional booklets on insecticide-free head lice removal techniques, and engaging playdough activities to aid children during treatment processes. Nit Kits serve as easy and convenient tools for schools and organizations to pass on the knowledge they have gained and support families dealing with head lice.
Supported by ESU6 funding, the program has distributed 415 kits – with the potential to help more than 415 families with their head lice problems – across the state.
“The Nit Kit is PERFECT. It is just the right amount of information for a person who does not deal with head lice every day,” said Louise Lynch-O’Brien, a Nit Kit recipient. “I could model for my son what not letting panic take over, finding valuable resources, and responsibly handling a situation looks like.”
In addition to the kits and educational sessions, a pivotal partnership with Children’s Nebraska school health collaborative has significantly expanded the program’s reach within Nebraska’s schools. Not only has Nebraska Extension provided training to school nurses across the state, but Extension resources on biting pests, including head lice, are being are being integrated into every school in the state through an Infectious Disease Manual for Schools produced by Children’s Nebraska.
“I want to say a big THANK YOU! The information is concise and easy to understand. The nit combs are a huge benefit for the families that get the kits, and the activities will be very helpful too!” said Kristin Slagle, a nurse at Sargent Public Schools.
Moving forward, the Nit Kit program aims to expand its impact by developing partnerships with foster care and other non-profit youth service organizations. This strategic step aims to provide additional support to families who may face challenges in managing head lice due to stigma or resource constraints.