Back to school time for kids brings fun, excitement and sometimes the return of nasty, little pests: head lice. September is Head Lice Awareness Month so we’ll share some facts and treatments for this incredibly frustrating and contagious little parasite.
Head lice cause’s between 12 million and 25 million infestations each year, mostly in children under 12 years. Every year, children are sent home from school for treatment.
What are head lice?
Head lice, also known as pediculosis capitis, are tiny parasitic insects that most often live on the scalp, but can also be found in the eyebrows or eyelashes. Initially, they lay their eggs throughout the hair, infecting the scalp. The eggs, called nits, look like dandruff. Nits are yellow or white and can live for more than two weeks. Once hatched, these insects can live for up to one month on their human host.
About the size of a sesame seed, fully grown lice have six legs and may be tan or grayish. Nymphs (the new hatchling) and nits are much smaller — about the size of the letters spelling out “The United States of America” on the back of a penny.
What causes head lice?
Usually, these insects spread from physical contact between one person to another. While a nuisance, head lice do not carry or spread diseases and do not lead to serious medical problems.
Who gets head lice?
Most often children in elementary and middle school get head lice, but anyone can become infected—no matter the age. Parents should protect themselves when a child brings these nasty bugs home.
How to prevent head lice?
Below are some steps to stop the spread of head lice.
· Ask your child to avoid games and activities that lead to head-to-head contact with classmates and other friends.
· Encourage your child not to share hats, hair brushes, combs, barrettes, scarves, towels, earplugs and headsets.
· Ask your child to keep his or her belongings separate from peers when possible. Closets, lockers, drawers, and common clothes hooks can be a breeding ground for lice.
· Look for any reports of head lice at your child’s school.
How to detect head lice?
Most often, the telltale sign is severe itching, on the scalp. Sometimes you may detect flakes that look like dandruff before the itching starts. After hatching, these insects are more difficult to
find. Under strong light, inspect your child’s scalp, beginning at the hair line. Small, red bumps may also appear on the scalp, neck or even shoulders. In intense cases, these bumps may become scaly or begin oozing, especially with excessive scratching.
While there’s a social stigma that surrounds head lice, it is a misconception that kids with poor hygiene are the only people to become infected. If you child comes into close contact with someone who is infected, tell them to let you know right away.
How to treat head lice?
These insects spread quickly so even if you only find one egg, treat the head lice quickly. Use a shampoo or lotion with 1% permethrin, like Nix, which is available over-the-counter. Apply as instructed, and check again for lice after eight hours.
Remember, these eggs stick to hair strands, making them difficult to remove. But it’s important to take the time to remove all the eggs with a special comb with very fine teeth. Rubbing olive oil or beeswax in the hair or on the comb prior to use can make the nits easier to remove.
All bedding, towels and clothing exposed to the lice or infected person should be washed immediately in hot water with detergent.
If your child has head lice that is not responding to over-the-counter treatments, prescription medications are also available. For help, contact our office to schedule an appointment.