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Head Lice Information

HEAD LICE Newsletter Article

Parents, your importance in the control of head lice is crucial in preventing outbreaks in the school setting. Head lice are easily acquired in the community and are usually not identifiable for weeks to months after exposure. Having head lice will not lead to any other disease, nor does it mean your child is dirty. This condition, though troublesome, should not be the basis of irrational or unkind reactions. You can help by understanding what head lice are, how you get it, how to prevent it, how to detect it, and how to treat it.

• What are head lice? Head lice are tiny, wingless, tan/brown insects that live and breed in human hair. They are about the size of a sesame seed. The eggs, called nits, are easier to see than the lice themselves. The nits are yellowish---white, tear drop shaped, and are firmly attached, at an angle to the hair shaft close to the scalp behind the ears and on the back of the neck. Dandruff, lint, and hair spray globules can easily be brushed from hair and can be mistaken for nits. Unlike dandruff, nits are difficult to remove and cannot be brushed away. Lice crawl slowly and cannot crawl long distances. They do not fly, hop, or jump. They survive by piercing the skin to feed on blood. Skin irritation at the feeding site causes itching. While head lice is a nuisance it does not pose a significant health hazard and they are not known to spread disease.

• How do lice spread? Lice are primarily spread by direct hair---to---hair contact, and less frequently through shared items such as combs, brushes, scarves, hats, headphones, sleeping bags, and stuffed animals. Lice may also be transmitted through shared bedding such as pillows, pillowcases, sheets, and blankets. Lice cannot survive away from the head for more than 24---48 hours. However, the nits can survive offthe body for a week or more but in order to survive they must get back on the head soon after they hatch. You cannot catch head lice from or give them topets.

• How do you prevent head lice? o Teach children not to share combs, brushes, hats, and coats. o Do not try on other people’s hats (not even in department stores). o Teach children to hang coats separately – placing hats and scarves inside of coat. Check your child’s hair if he/she frequently scratches their head or complains about itching. o Getting rid of lice as soon as they are found can prevent them from spreading in your home. 

• How are lice detected? The first clue that a child has head lice is frequent scratching of the scalp. To check for infestation, carefully examine the hair around the back of the neck and behind the ears. Since head lice shy away from light, you may only see the eggs (nits), small whitish ovals of uniform size (teardrop shape) attached to the hair shaft.

• How are lice treated? Successful treatment needs to concentrate on removing/killing lice on the child and on the removal of the nits. Several products are available to treat head lice. These are either shampoos or cream rinses. Some can be purchased over---the---counter while others need a prescription. These medicated shampoos and rinses should not be used on infants because the medicine is absorbed through the skin and can affect the brain. It is important to follow the instructions on the medicine exactly. Many of the treatments must be applied to dry hair to be effective. After the initial treatment, comb or pick out all the nits with a fine tooth nit comb. Combing should be repeated daily until no lice or nits are seen. A second treatment is recommended 7---10 days after the initialtreatment. Only those family members with lice or nits should be treated. Do not use a cream rinse, combination shampoo/conditioner, or conditioner before using lice medicine.Donot re---wash the hair for1---2 days after the lice medicine is removed.

• How to treat the environment In addition to treating those with lice, the home also needs to be addressed by:

o Checking everyone in the household at the same time, prior to cleaningthe environment.

o Washing clothing and bed linens in hot water. Items should be washed for at least 10 minutes at a water temperature of 130---140°F. Dry items on high heat for at least 30 minutes.

o Vacuuming your upholstered furniture, carpet, floors, stuffed animals, coat collars, hats, bare mattresses, car upholstery and child car seats. Soaking your combs, brushes, and hair accessories in boiling water for 10 minutes. If items cannot be exposed to heat, soak them in Lysol, rubbing alcohol or a pediculicide for one hour.

o Items that cannot be washed or vacuumed, such as stuffed animals, can be placed in a tightly closed plastic bag for 14 days at room temperature or 24 hours in below freezing temperatures. o All of the above tasks should be completed on the same day for increased success in eliminating head lice.

Spraying or fogging a home with insecticides or pediculicides is NOT RECOMMENDED, and may be harmful if used in a poorly ventilated area.