KENNEWICK -- It's an unpleasant subject, but Donna Furlong said it's one of those problems that can crop up in any school.
"At times, we have schools that have a lot of it and schools we hardly see it at," the Kennewick School District nurse said.
The "it" is head lice.
The tiny parasitic insects are known for the empty egg cases -- or nits -- they leave attached to hair and for the persistent need for their hosts to scratch their heads.
Head lice don't transmit disease and are more a nuisance than a danger. Still, district officials said there is a stigma attached to having head lice, and schools seek to quickly stamp out infestations.
Schools also try to avoid holding children out of school for too long or bringing them undue embarrassment.
A Kennewick woman recently told the Herald that her grandchildren have been infected by head lice four times since December -- despite evaluations by a Kennewick school nurse.
It has led to her and her family not only treating the children in the home, but also several of the adults after each reinfestation.
"We have 10 people in our home, and eight of them have it," she said.
Lorraine Cooper, spokeswoman for the district, said she was unaware of any schools in the district reporting bad outbreaks.
Parents are notified when their child is found to be infested, and children are permitted to attend classes so long as they have received treatment to kill the parasites, she said.
"We don't exclude students from school because of head lice," Cooper said.
Head lice are a common problem for children ages 3 to 12, according to data from the Washington Department of Health. The insect can't jump, but it can be transmitted by sharing winter hats and coats or storing the clothes of an infested child with those of classmates.
Schools aren't required to report an infestation to state health authorities, according to the state health department. School nurses and officials are recommended to contact parents if an infestation is found and offer suggestions on treatment.
Furlong said it takes effort to stop an infestation. Parents must treat the child's hair with various medicated shampoos, disinfect their home and wash linens to fully control the problem.
"It really takes a lot of time and lot of energy," Furlong said. "But it's not impossible to do."
Gina Begalka, a school nurse with the Richland School District, said Richland schools follow the head lice procedures outlined by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The district doesn't have an outbreak but has dealt with them.
District staff will visit homes to demonstrate how to properly treat head lice, she said.
"Lice is a stubborn problem and without the right tools, technique and diligence, it can be extremely difficult to resolve," Begalka said in an email.
* Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org