Also called pediculosis capitis, head lice are second only to the common cold in disease that school-age children spread to each other. Tiny, parasitic insects that live and feed on blood from the scalp cause head lice, a highly contagious infection. Having head lice is not an indication of poor hygiene or unclean living standards. In the U.S., approximately six to twelve million infestations of head lice occur each year. The infection spreads via close personal contact and through sharing belongings such as hats, brushes and other personal items.
Is it Lice?
If you suspect head lice, check your child’s head. You can see head lice on the scalp and hair. The eggs (nits) have a yellow, tan or brown appearance. The lice eggs eventually hatch and turn into nymphs (baby lice). Within one or two weeks, the nymphs develop into adult lice. About the size of sesame seeds, adult lice can be seen moving around on the scalp. Lice exist by feeding on blood from the scalp, but they can survive up to two days away from the scalp.
Signs of Lice
Generally, lice have these common symptoms:
- Intense, constant itching caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the lice
- Adult lice visible on the scalp, often behind the ears and near the back of the neck
- Nits located on the hair shafts
Checking for Lice
To determine if you child has lice, part the child’s hair down the middle and use a fine tooth comb to look for nits or lice. If anyone in the house has lice, you need to check the entire household and treat accordingly.
Getting Rid of Lice
Treating lice can be a very tedious process. Usually, over-the-counter products containing either pyrethrin or permethrin will kill the lice. Carefully follow the instructions and use the product for the full treatment course. Do not use the same product more than three times on one person.
After the application, you will need to comb through your child’s hair with a special comb to remove the lice and nits from the scalp. Over seven to ten days, you will have to repeat the treatment at least once and then complete this combing process several times to remove all the nits. If the lice seem resistant to the over-the-counter shampoo, your physician can give you a prescription medication that contains different ingredients.
For children under two, you may want to try a more natural alternative such as applying baby oil, mayonnaise or olive oil to the scalp which will suffocate the lice. Then, you can shampoo the hair and comb out the nits.
After treating your child and other family members as needed, you need to follow these steps to prevent a reinfestation:
- Machine wash and dry all clothes, bedding, pillows and linens
- Dry clean any articles that are not machine washable
- Vacuum carpets, furniture, and the cars’ interiors
- Store stuffed animals and similar items in sealed, plastic bags for at least two weeks
- Soak combs, brushes and hair accessories in alcohol or medicated shampoo for at least an hour or throw them out
- Remind your child not to share personal items with anyone