Hong Kong Science Museum steps up cleaning after claims of head lice from exhibition helmets

Official states no formal complaints made as online message alleges two children picked up infestation after visit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 6:35pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 August, 2017, 6:49pm

The Hong Kong Science Museum has stepped up cleaning and stopped visitors from donning its helmets after parents complained on social media of two children acquiring head lice, a government official has said.

Michelle Li Mei-sheung, director of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, said on Sunday the move was made to alleviate public concern, stressing the museum had not received any formal complaints to date.

She said the accusation made on social media had yet to be confirmed. It suggested two boys were recently found to have been infected just a few days after wearing helmets at “a new engineering game” at the museum.

“Now they have to shave their heads,” the message stated, claiming their family members must also undergo treatment.

The message was understood to be referring to the “Big Kids’ Worksite” interactive exhibition in the museum’s children’s gallery. At the exhibition, which opened in April, up to 25 children at a time can put on safety vests and helmets, as they use various “tools” to explore how buildings are built.

We surely consider the parents’ concern about their children’s safety
Michelle Li Mei-sheung, LCSD

Li said the government would “certainly consider the parents’ concern about their children’s safety” and urged worried parents to contact her department for assistance.

“We have not received any complaint ... and the rumour was not confirmed, but we are stepping up our cleaning and disinfection anyway,” she added.

The museum put up a notice at the exhibition on Sunday, stating the equipment was being cleaned four times daily. In the past, equipment was cleaned four times daily, but now the museum said it was devoting 30 minutes per cleaning and the exhibition would be suspended during the sessions.

The message circulating online also noted the museum was frequented by mainland Chinese visitors during the summer holiday.

“The doctor said very few people in Hong Kong have head lice nowadays ... and there were a lot of mainlanders that day,” the message went on.

Bringing on the inner child becomes a special Hong Kong obsession

But Medical Association vice-president Dr Chan Yee-shing, a paediatrician, expressed scepticism over the message’s authenticity and dismissed speculation about the source of infection.

“No one should label any particular group of people,” he said. “Head lice is usually more common in places where the living environment is not that good. There are occasionally some head lice infection cases in local kindergartens and children’s homes.”

It was also important to find out if the infection took place at home or at school to avoid other cases, he added.

Chan questioned why the two children and their family members mentioned in the online message had to shave their head or undergo treatment.

“Even if the situation was very serious, all they would need to do is wash their hair with medicated shampoo, and apply medicated lotion before going to bed.”

He added doctors would not deal with head lice by shaving a person’s head, explaining that it was in sharing personal items such as hair accessories that the risk of infection increased.

Why don’t Hong Kong schools perform head checks for lice?

According to the Centre for Health Protection, the most common symptom of head lice infection is an itchy scalp. Since lice cannot jump or fly from one person to another, the main mode of transmission is through direct head-to-head contact, or through sharing of personal items.

Apart from using medicated shampoo and lotion, patients or their close relatives must thoroughly wash personal items such as brushes, combs, hats and bed linen with hot water and detergent to avoid further infection.