The Facts of Lice: How To Detect It, Treat It, Prevent It
Contrary to popular belief, the school environment sees a higher incidence of lice infestation in the winter months. This is because hats, scarves and jackets come in contact with each other, allowing the louse to move from child to child.
Now it’s time for a test. See if you can answer these true-or-false questions:
1. Lice prefer a dirty head to a clean head of hair.
2. Lice can jump and fly.
3. Family pets can transmit lice.
4. Lice spread disease.
5. Lice shampoo is all the hair treatment that is necessary to get rid of lice.
Knowledge is your strongest suit of armor in preventing your child from bringing home lice this season.
For starters, homes don’t get head lice; people do. The parasite lives off human blood. In fact, the louse will only survive about 24 hours OFF a human host before it starves to death. The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed and has six legs with claws. It does not have hind legs to jump, nor does it have wings to fly. The louse does crawl very quickly and can move from one head to another (if the heads are touching) in seconds.
Incidentally, all of the above answers are false.
No matter how much you clean your house or what neighborhood you live in, your child will bring home lice if it finds a way to his/her head. Like humans, lice prefer a clean environment. A clean head of hair is lice paradise! Lice are not dangerous, nor do they cause disease. They are, however, highly contagious and annoying. Prevention is key.
Kids and teens are most prone to lice infestation because they like to share their things. Teach your children not to share brushes, combs, hair accessories, hats, headsets, stuffed toys, or towels. Examine your child’s heads periodically, especially after complaints of an itchy head or neck. If there has been an exposure, check your child’s head even if the symptoms are not apparent.
Treatment strategies include:
• Get all of the adult lice out of the hair. Speak with your medical provider regarding products designed to kill lice and make it easier to comb them out of the hair.
• Get all of the nits out of the hair. Nits are small white lice eggs, like a grain of sand, that are attached with a super-glue substance to the hair shaft. Shampoo does not remove the nits. The nits must be picked out of the hair, one by one and meticulously, or you’ll find new lice hatching in a few days. Nit combs are popular because they are fine-toothed and strong in removing the eggs. Use the bulk of your time on lice and nit removal.
• Get lice and nits off clothing, sheets and other items. Clothes and bed linens that have touched the head should be washed in hot water or placed in a hot dryer for 30 minutes. (The effectiveness of sprays is controversial.) Vacuum furniture and rugs. Some still advocate bagging up things that cannot be washed in an airtight bag for ten days. Others argue that evidence does not support the effectiveness of this intervention and that the time is better spent with hands-on lice and nit removal.
For additional information, go to www.kidshealth.org and www.cdc.gov.